Researching Cows in the Summer

Working toward a pair of degrees at Iowa State University, Nicole Schubert had a choice to make this summer.

She could find a summer job where she could gain valuable experience in the public health field. That would go hand-in-hand with the Masters of Public Health degree she is working on at the University of Iowa.

Or she could spend the summer working to obtain more experience with livestock and enhance her veterinary skills with food animals.

She choose to work with livestock, specifically cattle.

“I grew up on a swine farm and know about pigs,” the third-year veterinary medicine student said. “But I know next to nothing about cattle.”

Schubert is spending the summer participating in the College of Veterinary Medicine’s Summer Scholar Program. The program introduces veterinary medicine students to research in a wide array of areas as they gain valuable perspectives on the roles played by veterinarians in biomedical and public health research.

As part of Dr. Grant Dewell’s (associate professor of veterinary diagnostic and production animal medicine) research project on beef cattle production medicine, Schubert is conducting an evaluation of acclimation and low stress cattle handling on the health and performance of feedlot cattle.

Schubert has joined Dewell on trips to local farms where she has observed calves in different environments.

“People generally think if you grew up on a farm then you know all about livestock,” Schubert said. “But until I started working on this project I had never seen a cow run through a chute.

“It’s been an eye-opening experience.”

A majority of Schubert’s time on the research project has been culling through thousands of still images of the calves in different environments, looking at behavior patterns. From the time-stamped photographs she counts the number of cattle at the feeder bunk or the number laying down, drinking water or just standing.

“We’re looking at the cattle’s behavior to see if what is generally accepted by the industry is actually happening,” she said.

“The behavior part of the study is very interesting to me,” Schubert continued. “I believe I’m getting the experience I was seeking.”