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UWRF receives USDA grant

October 17, 2013

UW-River Falls has recently been accepted to a $700,000 grant from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) that was applied for by two animal science professors in May.

Professors Justin Luther and Amy Radunz headed the application process for the grant and now will work together to head projects involving the grant. Luther is an associate professor of reproductive physiology within the College of Agricultural Foods and Environmental Sciences (CAFES), while Radunz is an associate professor in animal science.

USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture has offered this grant for two years, according to Luther. It is offered to non-land-grant institutions such as UWRF. The grant is aimed to implement strategies that will improve reproductive efficiency in the U.S. beef cattle industry. Therefore, the grant will go into effect this January and will be used to help out in many ways at the UWRF Mann Valley Lab Farm. It will use the beef herd of 60-70 full-grown beef cows that currently are housed there.

“There’s three years of research projects that are going to be involved in the grant,” Luther said. “There is a new course that will be developed for undergraduate students here within the department of animal and food science.”

A component hoped to be used in the grant funding is research. “We will look at strategies to improve the reproduction efficiency in beef cattle. This will help students create research internship opportunities, which is a primary objective,” Luther said.

He added that some projects possible to have are working on multiple aspects of the reproduction process, such as efficiency in breeding tactics, calving and genetics.

“It’s going to allow us to provide some really great research opportunities for undergraduate students here,” Radunz said. “We hope that we will help students get more experiences, maybe to those who are interested in going to graduate school, particularly in these areas.”

Luther added that a producer short course and breeding techniques can also be practiced with this grant. “The project will use just under $100,000 from the grant for ultrasound equipment.”

More than 100 students are in some form involved with the beef project alone. Multiple courses currently use the facilities and the lab farm as a teaching mechanism. Radunz also advises the Beef Management Team at UWRF which works directly with the herd year-round.

“There are a changing number of students involved. We recently added a beef management team that deals with the daily management decisions pertaining to the herd.” Radunz said. “We have about 15 student workers, but we hope to get more student involvement. It is not only what you learn in the class room, but how you apply it.”

Radunz said that they hope to add at least six full-time summer internship positions to students, starting this summer.

“You can now gain hands on experience with the beef cow operation. They are not currently the best facilities, but with hands on experience you gain the most.  You can learn a lot to help improve calves in the end”, said Samantha Fink, who currently works as the student beef manager for the University lab farm.

“You can learn a lot learn more with facilities already, but students can learn a lot from getting the experiences with hands on,” Fink said.

The improvements for the facility that are being looked into include that the facility currently has one chute to run beef cattle through, which as Luther said, limits the students and workers to work with just one animal at a time.

“We hope to use additional funds for the new bovine reproductive course. We can gain an outreach with producers in another short course program. This will get students involved and interacting with cattle producers. It builds hands on opportunities and allows students to apply technologies,” Luther said.

Student work opportunities will be created to help with research projects using some of the funds.

With 12 to 18 students in courses better facilities are needed, according to Luther. Students can work on heat synchronization, utilize pregnancy diagnosis with ultrasound and research reproductive diseases within the operation. Their data in research looks to improve calving management to maximize calves born alive and to eventually help wean them from their mothers.

“I aim to apply reproductive management techniques to ultimately improve the productivity and profitability at the lab farm,” Luther said.