December 2019 AnSci Connection

AnSci Connection - a monthly newsletter from the department of animal science

UMN Researchers Study Public Perceptions of Dairy Calf Care and Housing

endres ventura and perttu at state fair

From left to right: Dr. Marcia Endres, Rielle Perttu, and Dr. Beth Ventura.

It is often said that the average American is three generations removed from the farm. Back just a few decades, everyone seemed to know or was related to someone who farmed. With this disconnect, the general public has started to express more interest in knowing how animals are raised and cared for on farms. However, there has been limited research conducted on public perceptions of animal care in the United States, particularly on dairy calf care perceptions and preferences.

Dr. Marcia Endres, her graduate student, Rielle Perttu, and collaborator Dr. Beth Ventura, set out to answer some of these questions by conducting research at the Minnesota State Fair in the Driven to Discover Building. During five seven hour shifts, they (and some volunteers) recruited around 1,800 people to take their survey on calf care housing preference/acceptance - individual, pair, or group housing - along with an open ended question on what a dairy calf needs to have a good life. They had two versions of the survey, one for youth five to 17, and one for adults.

About 25 percent of the participants were five to 17 years old; 82 percent were urban/suburban and 76 percent did not have a loved one in the dairy industry, but 95 percent of them consumed dairy products. The remaining 75 percent of the participants were adults 18 years old or greater; 81.5 percent were urban/suburban and 79 percent did not have a loved one in the dairy industry, but 94 percent of them consumed dairy products.

In response to what dairy calves need to have a ‘good’ life, participants most commonly mentioned themes related to biological functioning, followed by natural living and humane care. Almost all participants rated the right amount of food, water, shelter and doctor care, along with being treated calmly and respectfully, as important or very important to calf welfare. Over two-thirds of participants rated the ability to play with other calves as important or very important to calf welfare.

Overall, dairy calves housed in groups was the most preferred/accepted housing option. A majority of the public found group housing acceptable due to perceived advantages of socialization and space allowance for the calf, suggesting that the public desires a more natural lifestyle for farm animals. Currently, individual calf housing is the most used housing system for calves in the United States. Should the dairy industry be considering other options?

Your Gateway to the World

race horseFor many students, the idea of traveling the world is exciting, but they are left with many questions on how, where, and when? The University of Minnesota’s Department of Animal Science has the perfect course for students looking to learn more about animal science and gain confidence in international travel. Dr. Krishona Martinson, course co-instructor, says CFANS 3517: Shires, Shorthorns and Sheep: Exploring Animal Agriculture in England is many student’s gateway to the world. Former students have gone on to plan month-long European trips and one even attended veterinary school in England after the course.

CFANS 3517 examines the similarities and differences between Minnesota and England’s animal agriculture during visits to production livestock farms, including dairy, beef, and sheep. In addition, students learn about the thoroughbred racing industry during a behind-the-scenes tour of Newmarket, the birthplace of modern-day horse racing. Students will also experience England’s rich culture, including Shakespeare’s Globe Theater, the Greenwich Meridian, river punting, and time exploring the cities of Cambridge and London. 

This course is an embedded Spring semester B/May session course, meaning that the students attend class to learn about animal agriculture and prepare for the experience starting after spring break. The class will leave Minnesota on May 15th, 2020, arriving in the United Kingdom on the 16th. Then they will stay in Cambridge for one week and London for a second week, with day trips into the countryside most days, departing from the U.K. on May 29th.

CFANS 3517 group from 2018

Picture here are the students from the course in 2018 at Northfield Farm, which is known for their amazing and historical beef that they then sell at Borough market in London!

The trip costs just over $5,900, which includes a direct Delta flight, safe and comfortable accommodations, at least one meal a day, ground transportation, and fees associated with the course. There are many scholarships available specifically for students planning to study abroad through the UMN Learning Abroad Center. For more information on these scholarships, please go to:

All University of Minnesota students systemwide, from freshman to seniors, are encouraged to apply. The course is led by Dr. Krishona Martinson, Professor-Equine Specialist and Extension Program Leader, and Dr. Beth Ventura, Assistant Teaching Professor, Animal Behavior and Welfare. 

If you are interested in this course, don’t delay and sign up today because the application deadline is January 1, 2020. More information on CFANS 3517 can be found in this YouTube video or by visiting this website.

Gift Meat this Holiday Season with a Holiday Gift Box from the UMN Meat Science Laboratory

Meat lab holiday meat boxesAs the holidays draw ever so near, many people are starting to feel the pressure of what to buy for their loved ones, especially those who seem to already have everything. The University of Minnesota Meat Science Laboratory has the perfect item to solve everyone’s gifting problems, their annual Holiday Gift Boxes.

This year, the Meat Lab has carefully selected two delicious box options. The first option is the Holiday Beef Box, which includes two 14 ounce boneless ribeye steaks, two 12 ounce New York strip steaks, and two pounds of ground Butcher’s Blend (beef brisket, beef sirloin, and pork belly). The delectable steaks have been wet aged for 35 days and come to you fresh, never frozen. All for only $100. 

The second option is the Holiday Pork Box, including a three pound seasoned porketta roast, one whole tenderloin, two boneless pork chops, and two pounds of fresh pork sausage. Get this savory box for just $40.

The pork is primarily sourced from the student-managed swine unit on campus in St. Paul and the beef is sourced from University of Minnesota affiliated farms. The meat lab is managed by Dallas Dornink, a UMN alumni, and is staffed by students, providing them with valuable hands on experience during their time at the U.

Hurry because the last two days to get your Holiday Gift Boxes are December 18th and 19th from 2 to 5 pm at the Dairy and Meat Salesroom located in room 1 of the Food Science and Nutrition building at 1334 Eckles Avenue, St. Paul, MN 55108. Boxes will be sold while supplies last and must be picked up at the Salesroom.

For questions regarding meat products and to place orders outside of sales hours, please contact Dallas Dornink at 612.624.9260 or at


PhD Student Aims to Identify Generational Effects of Arsenic Exposure

Mathia ColwellWhen Mathia Colwell started her undergraduate degree, she was on the pre-med track with hopes of medical school, until she had the opportunity to do an undergraduate research project on blood proteins and fell in love with research. During this time, she also started teaching microbiology at a local community college. Both of these experiences helped fuel her interest in pursuing a career in research and teaching within academia. After graduating from Augsburg University with a Bachelor of Science in Biology with an emphasis in biochemistry and molecular biology, the Medford, Minnesota native took a position in Dr. Chris Faulk’s lab at the University of Minnesota’s Department of Animal Science (UMN).

Working with Dr. Faulk has given her the opportunity to work on a wide variety of projects and collaborate with groups from across the country, everything from retroviral elements in cheek tissue to working on 56 different species muscle tissue to gene editing in frogs. There have been so many interesting and exciting projects that Colwell could have never imagined working on before she came to the UMN. 

Tia Colwell

After working with Dr. Faulk for two years, Colwell started her PhD in 2017 studying functional genomics and epigenetics. She is currently working on a multigenerational study, looking at how arsenic exposure in pregnant mice affects their offspring later in adulthood, as well as how it affects the second generation. Colwell aims to identify arsenics impact on the health of the offspring, specifically looking at diabetes and obesity into adulthood.

Colwell’s face lit up not only when she spoke about her research, but also when she talked about helping with the animal physiology course as a teaching assistant. After she completes her PhD, she plans to complete a postdoc and continue a career in academia. Her ultimate dream is to help advance the field of biology and influence our future generations to make our world a better place.Colwell hopes to continue working on toxicology and epigenetic reprogramming over the course of her career, focusing on adulthood diseases. She not only wants to be able to identify the effects of toxic exposure, but also work on solutions to prevent long term effects for the individual that was exposed and their offspring for generations to come. 

Thoughts from Dr. Mike Schutz 

Once again, the semester is winding down. While students don’t actually complete finals until tomorrow, many faculty have remarked at how the pace has slowed down here in Animal Science as students complete their courses and many, of course, complete their exams early.  

With the Holidays approaching, this allows time to reflect on where we have been in the past year and especially what opportunities will arise in the new year.  As a youngster growing up on a small farm, there was not as much hustle and bustle as the holidays approached. Sure, there were the holiday preparations and the occasional snowfall to clean up and there were the usual chores, but there was no additional field work.  The days were short which meant getting on the school bus before sunrise and getting off the bus after sunset and heading to the barn in the dark both morning and night. But there was also time to relax. I hope that each of you can have the opportunity to pause, to reflect, but most importantly to set plans for the upcoming year.

Here in Animal Science we will be looking forward to many new things in this upcoming year of 2020.  We are excited and thankful for the opportunities that 2020 will bring. Dr. Kahina Ghanem will join the faculty in April 2020 as an Avian Reproductive Physiologist.  Dr. Ghanem will be a Teaching and Research Assistant Professor in an AGREET funded position. We are currently beginning searches for two faculty positions, one in dairy nutrition research and teaching also funded by AGREET, and one in dairy systems Extension and research.  I am also quite happy to announce that Kim Reno will be returning to the Department of Animal Science as our Departmental Administrator. In case the name sounds familiar, Kim was previously in the department of Animal Science from 1996 to 2000 and again from 2008 to 2015, most recently, she served as Assistant to the Associate Dean of Academic Programs in CFANS.  Also, we will be seeking to hire a student services professional in Animal Science, as Allison Kierth accepted a position with Easter Seals/Goodwill in St. Paul. 

Have a happy holiday season and a safe and healthy 2020!


Dr. Mike Schutz
Department Head
Department of Animal Science 

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