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Local high school students get hands-on ranch experience in vet tech program

Bel-Air High School's Health Professions Veterinary Tech program

A local ranch opened its stables to aspiring veterinary students from Bel-Air High School's Health Professions Veterinary Tech program, allowing them to work hands-on with the ranch's animals during weekly rotations as part of their training.

Fifer's Ranch is located in the Lower Valley and has been around for over fifty years, in the last five years, students from the program have had a chance to shadow and learn from owners Edd Fifer and his wife, along with their ranch hands.

The vet tech program was originally a one-year program only for seniors, but has now expanded to a two-year program, and the first group of juniors will start their rotations soon.

Meanwhile, seniors Jailene Trochett and Christian Hernandez, along with their group, have rolled up their sleeves and strapped on their boots for weekly rotations at the ranch, and are quickly learning it's not easy work, but both say they love the opportunity.

"It's very exciting to come out here every day, I absolutely love it. From a young age, I've been an animal lover and wanted to become a veterinarian, so when I heard about this program, I was really interested," Trochett said.

"My experience at Fifer's has been amazing! Mr. Fifer and Mr. Bagot, our instructors here, have taught us how to castrate goats, even ride horses and groom them in this short amount of time. I'm excited to learn more, especially because this is an opportunity that not many students have or get to experience," Hernandez said.

Through the morning, you can hear instructions and lessons being shared with students as they're directed on what to do and taught about all the animals on the ranch.

Fifer and his wife, along with their ranch hands, work sun up to sun down and are passing on the knowledge they've learned and earned over the years in hopes the students will grow with a love for ranching and go into the veterinary field.

"I knew I always wanted to be a cowboy. I worked for the water district for many years and wore a suit but underneath. I was a cowboy. At heart, we're all cowboys here, and we're kind of an endangered species, is what we are, so I’m trying to keep it alive as much as I can. That's why I'm passing what I know on," Fifer said.

Fifer's Ranch is just one stop on the program's weekly rotations. Students also get to work hands-on at vet clinics around the city and at the El Paso Zoo.

Dr. David Angerstien, who runs the program, said they're one of the largest in the state, according to the Texas Veterinary Medical Association, and have had sixty students in the program so far, with over thirty students passing their certification to become vet techs. Now that they've extended the program to two years, the numbers will grow, and Bel-Air is hoping for even more students. The Health Professions magnet school has other programs that allow students to get hands-on experience in other medical fields and then test for certifications at graduation, including pharmacy tech, certified nurse assistant and paramedic.

"Bel-Air High School picks some really neat students, and we can handle more. I'd love to have more. We are ranchers and have learned from the school of hard knocks. We're not vets, but we know a lot about animals. If these students all become veterinarians and we have them all back right here, I've got to buy a whole bunch more animals," Fifer said.

Fifer's ranch isn't just open to students. They also host the public for tours, field trips, parties and riding lessons, too.

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