At Kansas State’s Beef Cattle Research Center, students experience hands-on learning and gain knowledge from the research of operation systems, which are used to manage beef cattle that the unit does not own.
Producers who have commercial feedlots will consign their cattle, specifically feedlot heifers — which are market livestock that are fed until they have reached market weight and are ready to be harvested — and steers — which are bulls that have been castrated — to the center specifically for research.
As it is a facility that is restricted only to research and is in the business of promoting change, the center has several routines that tend to change frequently to match the needs of the current projects and studies.
The routines that do stay the same are centered around daily tasks, including verifying the health and wellness of the 1,200-1,500 head of cattle through feeding, cleaning and daily maintenance, as well as completing jobs that are reflective of their research.
These tasks are completed by graduate student researchers and about 15 undergraduate part-time employees who come from a variety of different departments, such as agricultural economics and agribusiness, biology, agronomy and biological and agricultural engineering.
Most agriculture students did not grow up on farms
“We have a very significant percentage of students who don’t come from agriculture backgrounds,” said Jim Drouillard, research professor in ruminant nutrition. “Many of the students come from urban and suburban backgrounds, so the facility provides value in the aspect of gaining experience in livestock handling.”
Some of the current research projects include a trace mineral nutrition study, researching a decreasing alliance of antibiotics and the feedlot production system, a research method for grain processing strategies and the development of a type of probiotics for cattle.
Even though each graduate student has a different area of specialization within the beef industry, they still have opportunities to learn about other students’ projects by helping one another out with different tasks at the research unit.
“We are very team-oriented at the BCRC, so each graduate student helps the others with their research so everyone can experience different types of research,” said Savannah Katulski, graduate student in animal science, who is also studying ruminant nutrition.
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Ruminant nutrition is the study of ruminants, which convert the energy from the cereal grains that humans cannot eat and turn it into protein through fermentation in a specialized part of the stomach.
Katulski’s research interests emphasize trace mineral nutrition in beef cattle. She said most of her research involves more forage-based production systems, but she has also completed work with feedlot cattle.
“We really pride ourselves on being meticulous and delivering the best data that we can,” Katulski said. “I have learned not only how to be a good scientist, but also how to manage the day to day tasks at the BCRC. I really believe that this program gives masters students a well-rounded experience.”
After a research project is complete, the cattle are then fed until they reach market weight and are then taken to be harvested. A majority of the cattle are taken to a processing facility near Garden City, Kansas.
Tara Ellerman, graduate student studying ruminant nutrition, said the research opportunities at the Beef Cattle Research Center have opened up many doors for her.
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“As long as I can remember, I have loved cattle and the people of the beef industry,” Ellermain said. “The show ring was a big part of my upbringing, and the impact of proper nutrition on the performance of my show calves has always amazed me. After I made the decision to work for Dr. Jim Drouillard, another door opened that allowed me to step into a lab setting to focus my research in rumen microbiology.”
Editor’s note: This is the third in a series showcasing K-State livestock units. Next week’s story will feature the swine unit.