332nd AIR EXPEDITIONARY WING -- One Airman deployed to an undisclosed location in Southwest Asia has an unusual pedigree shared by few if any other service members.
Dr. Colin Tobin is a master sergeant deployed from the South Dakota Air National Guard’s 114th Fighter Wing. He holds an unusual doctorate degree in range science with a focus on animal husbandry, something he says stems from growing up “on a cattle ranch in central South Dakota.”
Husbandry is a word finding its origins in Old English and beyond that from Old Norse and refers to someone “with his own farm,” it seems fitting as Tobin likes to sum up his advanced degree by saying, “I’m a farmer.”
He says pursuing this specialized type of degree is a natural outgrowth of growing up on the ranch where he, “learned to take care of the land and the animals on that land.”
The details of his degree are at the PhD level—that is to say complicated—and he explains that much of the thrust of his education is researching how to “create and optimal animal for its environment.”
He goes on to say that such an animal is bred to fully utilize its forage and not to eat the maximum amount. This protects the natural rangeland found all across the western United States from overgrazing while at the same time helping produce a healthy, well-fed animal.
“If we are raising cattle correctly, if we are letting them graze like a natural animal where they can select their own diet and we don’t stress that rangeland too much, both will benefit,” he said.
One can quickly deduce in a conversation with Tobin that at least part of the desire to see healthy, well-fed beef is the resulting marbling and juiciness of the resulting steak—preferably seared medium-rare over charcoal. He is a connoisseur of beef, but he also says that his cattle are his pets and he cites three freedoms he wants to provide each and every one: “Freedom from thirst and hunger, freedom from fear and freedom to display their natural behavior.”
Although he is referring back to ranch he grew up on when he talks about his cattle, he hopes to have a ranch of his own and feels his degree will help him maintain a healthy herd.
When the conversation turns to raising cattle in a snowy climate like South Dakota he says, “When I see cows covered in snow I love it, because it means they are well taken care of.”
Essentially, it means that those cows have a healthy layer of fat and a healthy coat insulating them from the cold and keeping the snow from melting on their back.
He also mentions that a horse can change its coat up to 17 times in a day, growing and sloughing hair as needed. Such knowledge is the nature of an advanced degree in husbandry.
In the meantime, his future herd will have to wait as he finishes out his stint in the Middle East as a deployed biomedical equipment technician for the 332nd AEW where he performs preventative maintenance and calibration on medical equipment.