Here is a belated recap for the month of June:
First student member of the Van Os lab!
At the beginning of June, the Van Os lab officially became a “group” instead of a one-woman show when Rekia Salter started her MSc in Dairy Science. Rekia grew up in Ohio and earned her B.S. in Animal, Poultry, and Veterinary Science from Tuskegee University in Alabama, where she gained research experience with meat goats. She also did a summer toxicology research project on mice at UIUC – my hometown 🙂
June Dairy Month was the perfect time for Rekia to start her foray into dairy. Right off the bat, she was able to visit several dairy farms, including one using robotic milking, another with a biodigester for converting manure and other waste into energy, and others involved in active research with UW-Madison.
Rekia is interested in feeding behavior, and her MSc thesis project will likely be on milk- and starter-delivery methods for feeding both individual- and pair-housed dairy calves to give them appropriate outlets for their natural suckling behavior. This summer, she is helping run a study we are conducting at Rosy-Lane Holsteins, a commercial dairy owned and operated by several alumni of our department.
Badger Dairy Camp
In early June, Rekia and I led 4 back-to-back sessions for about 125 kids as part of the annual Badger Dairy Camp for ages 12-18. We led a group exercise getting the kids to use their knowledge, experience, and intuition to develop a definition of animal welfare. We worked through hypothetical scenarios with both cats and dairy cattle to discuss how to evaluate an animal’s welfare. This is the same exercise I’ve used for college students, and I was pleased to see many of the teens rise to the challenge and come up with good questions and insights.
I was invited by the Dodge County and Fond du Lac County Forage Councils to give the keynote presentation at their June 20th Twilight Meeting, hosted by Michels Family Farm in Lomira. I talked about “Why Millenials care about food animal production practices – and what it means for you.” My presentation covered my own story of how I went from a non-ag background to my current position and also highlighted some social science research that gives us some foundations for bridging the gap between producers and a largely non-ag consumer base. My talk was covered in the Watertown Daily Times, and I will write my own in-depth piece on the topic in the future.
Vita Plus Calf Summit
The next day, I was invited to give 2 back-to-back breakout sessions for the Vita Plus Calf Summit: Growing Calves from the Inside Out. We discussed “Beyond health: Considerations for promoting good welfare in dairy calves. Good health is important for good animal welfare, and good production is essential to the viability of a dairy operation. But although good health is essential, it isn’t sufficient for an animal to have good welfare. Other considerations include the animal’s subjective experience and its opportunities to express important behaviors. I used pain management for dehorning and social housing, respectively, as examples. My talks were covered on the Vita Plus blog as well as in Hoard’s Dairyman.
June wrapped up with the annual American Dairy Science Association meeting, held this year in Knoxville, TN. I presented a poster on some work I started during my postdoc at UBC. Similar to my poster last year, I’m interested in the question of how to get a representative sample of cows when conducting animal welfare assessments. For this paper, we drew from 4 existing industry programs (National Milk’s FARM program, Dairy Well, Validus, and proAction in Canada) and compared how they sample cows and what thresholds of acceptability they use for animal-based measures like lameness, leg injuries, and body condition score. We are hoping to come up with practical recommendations that evaluation programs can use to balance accuracy and feasibility (time and labor constraints) when conducting assessments on farm.
Incoming Van Os lab MSc student Kimberly Reuscher won 3rd place in the Undergraduate Original Research Poster competition! Kim’s poster was about her study on heat stress in different calf hutch designs in Texas, where she completed her B.S. at Tarleton State. Kim will be joining us at UW-Madison in August.
After the conference, I visited the UT-Knoxville dairy with my collaborator Dr. Peter Krawczel of UTK. An interesting management practice on their facility is housing preweaned calves in groups of 5 or 10 on pasture after a brief initial period of individual housing. Milk is delivered in 5-teat buckets and the pasture has a straw-bedded carport for shade. The herd manager, Tate, not only takes good care of the UTK cows, but also of the several barn cats he employs for keeping pests out of the cow feed. The cats were big, shiny, and very friendly toward calves and visitors alike!