September and October 2018 recap


In September, I gave an invited presentation, “Animal welfare: Current trends for dairy cattle and relevance to the AI sector” for the 27th National Association of Animal Breeders Technical Conference. I talked about how scientists study animal welfare, some of the major animal welfare priorities for today’s dairy industry, and what the AI sector can consider to optimize cattle welfare – both within AI facilities and for the wider population of dairy cattle through breeding advances.

In terms of the latter, an example I discussed was the use of polled genetics to breed naturally hornless cattle, which would reduce the need for the painful procedure of disbudding/dehorning. Maci Mueller, a PhD student at UC-Davis, presented a poster on her research at the technical aspects of this concept: what happens when using conventional selection vs. gene editing to breed for polled cattle?


Maci Mueller, PhD student at UC-Davis, with Dr. Van Os at the 27th NAAB

World Dairy Expo

October kicked off with my first visit to World Dairy Expo here in Madison. It’s a huge cattle show and trade show. I had some great conversations with potential research partners, but with the overwhelming amount of exhibitors, I barely got to dip my toes into all the great things to see… Can’t wait for next year!



August 2018 recap

Here’s a retrospective on the month of August

New Van Os lab Master student!


Kim Reuscher graduated from Tarlteton State U with a degree in Animal Science

At the beginning of August, Kim Reuscher from Texas joined our lab as a Masters student. She had to hit the ground running immediately as we started data collection for our lab’s first experiment:

Cooling cows with showers in the parlor

Throughout all of August and the beginning of September, our lab (Kim, fellow MSc student Rekia, and undergraduate Emma) spent every day at Rosy-Lane Holsteins collecting data. This dairy is owned and operated by 4 UW-Madison alumni who prioritize innovation and adaptation, making them ideal research partners.

A few years ago, the Rosy-Lane partners decided to try cooling their cows with water while the cows are being milked in the parlor. This approach is pretty rare – more commonly, dairies soak cows when they are in the pre-milking holding area and/or in the home pen while they’re eating. Rosy-Lane likes their method because it means they apply a consistent amount of water to every cow, so our lab decided to collect data to measure how the cows are cooled by the showers.

Now that summer has ended, Kim, Rekia, Emma, and undergraduate Sky are in the thick of data processing. We look forward to sharing the final results with the farm!


Drs. Van Os and Mondaca prepare to measure airspeeds at the cows’ standing and resting heights throughout the barn

In addition, our collaborator, Dr. Mario Mondaca, an engineer and ventilation specialist with the UW-Madison School of Veterinary Medicine (SVM) and The Dairyland Initiative, helped the farm measure the airspeeds at the cows’ standing and resting heights throughout their mechanically ventilated barn. This information helped the farm see if there were areas with low airspeeds where adding a new baffle could help direct fast-moving air to the cows to keep them cooler in summer.

July 2018 recap

Here’s a retrospective on the month of July:

Marshfield Agricultural Research Station

July started off with a visit to the Marshfield Agricultural Research Station (MARS), where the UW-Madison heifer-raising facility is located.

Nancy Esser, the superintendent and herd manager, showed off the impressive research facilities, which include dozens of pens with heifers housed in social groups of 8 animals. This is a researcher’s dream, because we can get good sample sizes by assigning pens to different, replicated experimental treatments, while keeping animals in their social groups.

Nancy expressed an interest in providing grooming brushes for the heifers, and we talked about trying out a low-cost solution: scrub brushes from the hardware store, just like we used in our studies at UBC last summer. A couple months later, I was so excited to find out that the heifers at MARS are now enjoying their new grooming devices! Recently, there has been a lot of press about new research showing that grooming is an important behavioral need for cattle, so it’s heartening to see our heifers have an opportunity to use brushes.MARS


The rest of July was a flurry of preparation for our lab’s first experiment (more in the August recap) and writing a grant for research funding from the USDA: “Combating heat stress in dairy cattle using multi-modal real-time sensing and machine learning,” led by Dr. Younghyun Kim from UW-Madison Electrical and Computer Engineering, and with Dr. Chris Choi from UW-Madison Biological Systems Engineering.

ISAE Congress

July wrapped up with the 51st ISAE Congress in Prince Edward Island, Canada.

I serve as Communications Officer for the Society, so for me the week started off with a Council meeting. This year, I did not present an abstract, so the rest of the week I was free to enjoy hearing about the latest science (see our twitter feed for highlights), judging the student poster competition, catching up with international colleagues, and taking in beautiful PEI.

UBC AWP 2018

Former and current members of the UBC Animal Welfare Program at the 2018 ISAE Congress

A high point was celebrating the awarding of an Honorary Fellowship to one of my mentors, Dr. Joy Mench, with whom I now serve on Sysco’s Animal Welfare Advisory Council.


Former and current members of the UC-Davis Center for Animal Welfare, including (from left) Dr. Van Os, Dr. Cassandra Tucker (my PhD advisor), and Dr. Joy Mench (2018 ISAE Honorary Fellow)

PEI is very scenic and we saw a lot of pastured dairy cows while we were out and about (although not on the beach), which certainly enhanced the landscape, in our opinion!


Dr. Catie Cramer (recent UW-Madison PhD and now a postdoc at The Ohio State U), Dr. Van Os, Dr. Emily Miller-Cushon (Assistant Professor at U Florida, Gainesville) at Cow’s creamery in Charlottestown, PEI


June 2018 recap

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.

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Rekia Salter, new MSc student, visits Rosy-Lane Holsteins

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.

Twilight Meeting

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.

180620 Dodge Forage Council twilight mtg crop

Photo by Julie of Gurn-Z Meadow Farm

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!


UT-Knoxville has some nice looking cows and cats!

May 2018 recap

Here is a belated recap for the month of May:

Dairyland Initiative workshops

At the start of May, I attended the Dairyland Initiative workshops in Green Bay. It was an excellent boot camp on the topics of youngstock facility design, positive-pressure tube ventilation for calf barns, and ventilation for adult cows.

I appreciated that the meeting kicked off with a group discussion of potential welfare and housing needs for calves. The implicit distinction is that housing is something we provide to the animals, but welfare reflects the animals’ intrinsic needs. In this Facebook video with Tina Kolhman from UW Extension Fond du Lac, we chat more about this topic.

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The kickoff group discussion on housing and animal welfare considerations for calf barn design at the Dairyland Initiave workshop

Wisconsin Idea Seminar

In mid-May, I spent a week traveling around the state by bus along with 40 fellow UW-Madison faculty and staff. The Wisconsin Idea Seminar is meant to help us learn more about the state we serve – and more specifically about the various communities that make up our state, and the issues that are relevant to them.

On the first day, we stopped at Mystic Valley Dairy, which I had visited the previous month. My colleagues, Drs. Kent Weigel and Heather White were there to help answer questions, along with the owner, Mitch Breunig, and his nutrition consultant, James Bailey. Grande Cheese provided a delicious pizza lunch.

For many of my bus-mates, this was the first time they’d set foot on a real dairy farm. Many people were impressed and surprised by how clean the cows were, the level of detail that goes into their care, and the use of precision technology (i.e., “cow fitbits”) to monitor cow activity and health on this facility.

Heather and I are now in the process of helping Catherine Reiland, the organizer, with planning the dairy visit for the next Idea Seminar cohort in 2019.

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Dr. Kent Weigel (department chair) and Dr. Heather White helped lead the tour at Mystic Valley Dairy

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About 40 of us spent the week touring the state by bus and learning about Wisconsin’s varied communities

Dairy Cattle Welfare Symposium

I rounded out a month of heavy travel in Scottsdale, AZ at the 3rd Dairy Cattle Welfare Symposium, with my trip made possible with sponsorship from VES Environmental Solutions. I had presented at the 1st meeting in Ohio in 2016, but this time I was there to catch up with collaborators and talk about needs and ideas for future research and outreach projects.

April 2018 recap

Here is a belated recap for the month of April:

Farm Visits

As UW-Madison’s new extension specialist in dairy animal welfare, I’ve been eager to meet Wisconsin producers, talk with them about their approaches on animal welfare, and see their operations in action.

When I first moved to Wisconsin from California this spring, I asked some of my new colleagues what they found surprising when they first came here from out of state. They said they were amazed at just how nice Wisconsinites can be.

Since then, about a dozen family-owned dairies have proven this to be true and welcomed me onto their farms. Their herd sizes ranged from under 100 to the thousands, some were freestalls and others tiestalls, most milked in a parlor but some used robotics, and I saw a wide a variety of management strategies. My visits have been a reminder that there are so many different ways to dairy successfully.

My goal was to meet people and learn about their decisions around housing, management, and animal care – not to do formal animal welfare evaluations. But I saw and heard several common themes that made me happy – and hopefully their cattle too. During my farm visits, we’ve had a lot of good discussions about what animal welfare means, some of the issues the dairy industry currently faces, and some of the challenges ahead.

Sunburst Dairy

A gorgeous (twin!) red Holstein at Sunburst Dairy. Check out her eyelashes – maybe she’s born with it… maybe it’s Moobelline?


On April 19, I had my first “official” outing as an extension specialist, delivering dual programs organized by UW Extension at Alma Center and Eau Claire, where I talked about “Science to understand best practices for promoting dairy cattle welfare.” The groups were small but engaged, and we had some good discussions about what animal welfare means. I did an 8-minute interview with WAXX Radio, which you can listen to here.

Paper featured on PLoS homepage

Our recently published paper about the motivation of feedlot finishing cattle for roughage in their diet was featured on the front page of the newly redesigned website for the journal, PLoS ONE. It was a treat to see the value of the work promoted by the journal!

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Our paper was featured on the front page of the newly redesigned PLoS website!

Temple Grandin visit

On April 26, the Saddle & Sirloin Club, UW-Madison’s student animal science organization, invited Dr. Temple Grandin to speak. I appreciated when Dr. Grandin pointed out that “accomodat[ing] highly motivated behavioral needs” and giving animals opportunities for “positive emotions” are important factors when thinking about the welfare of farm animals.

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March 2018 recap

It’s been a whirlwind few months as I’ve been settling into my role at UW-Madison! The website has a new name ( and I established a twitter account (@AWSUWM – Animal Welfare Science at UW-Madison). Here is a belated recap for the month of March:

  • The following week was the UW Extension Wisconsin Dairy & Beef Well-Being Conference in Green Bay, where I met several of the county agents on the dairy team. This month (July), we’re starting work organizing the next cattle well-being conference.
  • I was particularly impressed to see the UW Extension Language Access & Support team in action at the conference. They provided live interpretation from English to Spanish (and vice-versa) through headphones.

America’s Dairyland

I am honored and thrilled to join the Department of Dairy Science at the University of Wisconsin-Madison as an Assistant Professor and Extension Specialist in Animal Welfare. 

20180311_172208My goal for this role is to help the dairy industry remain sustainable in the long term. Understanding and promoting animal welfare is an essential part of achieving this goal. To this end, my applied research program will follow these broad themes:

  • Improving the fit between dairy animals and their environments: how do housing and management decisions affect physiology, behavior, and production?
  • Understanding the needs of dairy animals from a biological perspective: what behaviors are important for them to be able to express and what resources do they need?
  • Developing and validating tools: how do we evaluate animal welfare effectively on commercial operations? How can we use technology to help us monitor animal welfare?

I’m so excited for this opportunity in America’s Dairyland. I’m eager to learn more about the local industry, conduct applied research, and develop outreach programs that will promote best practices and help the Wisconsin industry adapt as our knowledge about animal welfare continues to grow.


Update: the UW-Madison College of Agricultural & Life Sciences published my new faculty profile here

Open-access paper on cattle motivation for roughage

Last week, we published a paper in PLoS ONE on the motivation of feedlot cattle for roughage. (This was the topic I presented at the 100th California Cattlemen’s Association, covered in a previous blog post). You can download the full text of the paper for free by clicking here.

Van Os, Jennifer M. C., Erin M. Mintline, Trevor J. DeVries, and Cassandra B. Tucker. 2018. Domestic cattle (Bos taurus taurus) are motivated to obtain forage and demonstrate contrafreeloading. PLoS ONE. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0193109.

Free access to our paper on sampling for welfare assessments

We recently published a paper in the Journal of Dairy Science on sample sizes and cow-selection strategies for on-farm dairy welfare assessments. (This was the topic I presented at ADSA last summer, covered in a previous blog post). You can download the full text of the paper for free through March 7, 2018 by clicking here.

Van Os, Jennifer M. C., Christoph Winckler, Julia Trieb, Soraia V. Matarazzo, Terry W. Lehenbauer, John D. Champagne, and Cassandra B. Tucker. 2018. Reliability of sampling strategies for measuring dairy cattle welfare on commercial farms. Journal of Dairy Science 101:1495-1504. doi:10.3168/jds.2017-13611.