November 2019 AnSci Connection

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

Slotted Floor Research Aims to Prevent Illness in Turkeys

turkeysAs families across our nation prepare to enjoy turkey this Thanksgiving, we wanted to highlight the great research being done with turkeys here at the University of Minnesota. Dr. Sally Noll, a professor in turkey nutrition, allows her extension work to drive her research, which has steered her towards studying the management piece of turkey operations in addition to nutrition research.

Dr. Noll and her team, including graduate student Mariah Huberty, have recently started looking into the opportunity for slotted flooring in turkey barns. Currently in the Midwest, turkey barns use a bedded system with wood shavings. These allow a comfortable place for the turkeys to rest, but they do have some down falls when it comes to the spread of illness amongst the birds. In a bedded system, birds have direct contact with feces and the shavings are stirred, allowing the further spread of disease.

Due to the fact that turkeys do not lay down in gentle fashion, a completely slotted floor might impact carcass quality. Therefore, Dr. Noll’s team is studying the effects of a 25 percent slotted floor, 75 percent bedded system. The feeders and waters are located on the slotted floor portion because turkeys tend to defecate while standing around their feed and water, reducing the amount of excrement on the bedded area. Under the slotted floors, there is a scraper system to remove waste. Since turkey manure is more solid than manure from other animals such as pigs and dairy, they are exploring adapting current scraper systems for use in the turkey barn. So far they have not seen any negative effects of the 25 percent slotted floor, but they are currently studying this in a semi-commercial setting to see if it could be replicated within the turkey industry. UMN collaborators in this project include Drs. Kevin Janni, Erin Cortus, Tim Johnson and Carol Cardona. Funding is provided by the State of Minnesota.

In addition to research on different flooring, Dr. Noll is also looking at prebiotics and probiotics in turkey diets to see if they can help jump start the development of the turkey’s immune system and digestive track. She is also working with the Minnesota Turkey Growers Association, looking at the effects of different types and levels of soybean meal in turkey diets.

As we enjoy our turkeys this week, we will be thinking about all the work that Dr. Noll and Minnesota’s turkey producers do to help put delicious and nutritious birds on our table.


Turkeys helping with sampling of litter.

Students Get Weekly Hands on Experiences with Pigs and Sheep

“Soft skills are incredibly valuable in today’s job market,” according to Forbes. These skills include items such as time management, adaptability, and collaboration. While most classes on a college campus can teach you the information you need to know for a job, it’s the hands on and interactive classes that help develop these soft skills in addition to technical ones.

Kyle Rozeboom’s pork production and sheep and goat production courses are some students’ favorite courses they have taken while on campus. Not only are these students learning the technical aspects of the pork and sheep industry, they are also performing these tasks in a hands on environment where they need to think on their feed and learn to collaborate with their classmates.

The sheep production course has anywhere from seven to 22 students and each student gets their turn on lamb watch. During their assigned half day on watch, they take care of new born lambs by weighing them, giving them their first penicillin shots, and help them learn to nurse. Students trouble shoot any problems and as Rozeboom says, “they learn by trial and error.” It’s a great environment for students to learn independence and adaptability in a real world setting. After their first shift, many students volunteer to help on nights and weekends, eventually helping TA the course the next year.

The swine production course has even more one on one learning with only five to ten students in the course each time it is held every other year. In this interactive course, students follow litters from farrowing until they leave for the finishing barn. Just like the sheep course, students are responsible to helping bring new animals into the world. This is a great opportunity for students to work as a team as they process all new litters; giving first vaccines, tail docking, and castrating the piglets.

Both courses are not just involved in the barns here on campus in St. Paul, they also get the opportunity to visit farms, workshops, and different conferences as a class. The pork production class gets to also visit Hormel in Austin, MN and the sheep production class gets to tour the Faribault Woolen Mill.

The hands on experiences the students have in these courses are invaluable to their experiences. Rozeboom shared the story of a student who grew up in an urban setting and took the pork production course. The student enjoyed the class so much that he interned in the swine barn on campus the next summer and eventually went on to manage a large commercial swine operation after graduation. “There is tremendous job potential for these students,” stated Rozeboom.

If this type of interactive learning environment is something you would be interested in, please email for more information.

Shade and Energy: Solar Panels used as Shades in Grazing Pasture

cows and solar panelsCow comfort. An industry term that we hear all the time, but how to achieve that perfect balance of comfort and practicality is a debated topic. However, for grazing herds, Dr. Brad Heins might have found just the right answer to that question. Dr. Heins and his team, including graduate student Kirsten Sharpe, installed a 30 kilowatt solar powered system in the pasture of their rotational grazing system at the West Central Research and Outreach Center (WCROC) in Morris, Minnesota. The system provides shade for their milking herd and energy for the milking parlor.

In order to identify the positive impact of the shades on the cows, Dr. Heins and Sharpe monitored the rumen internal temperature. They wanted to determine if the solar panels decreased heat stress in cows. They found a half degree decrease in internal body temperature of cows that had access to the solar panels as shades as compared to cows that did not have access, showcasing the positive impact to cow comfort.

Using solar and small scale wind energy, as well as a heat reclamation system, the 300 cow dairy has a goal of zero net energy. They also are working with the University of Minnesota Morris for a new solar powered system. They will be putting up a 200 kilowatt system that the dairy will use for shades for the cows while grazing and all the energy will be used by the panels

In addition to the work they are doing at the WCROC, Dr. Heins has also been monitoring four other dairy farms for the past year and a half. They are identifying how efficient the farms are with their energy usage in order to identify opportunities to expand renewable energy.

To help highlight this work, the WCROC team holds extension field days for farmers and industry alike. They have had visitors from not only Minnesota, but across the nation. They also have shared the project on the UMN West Central Research and Outreach Center’s YouTube channel.

Check out one of their videos at:


Thoughts from Dr. Mike Schutz 

Last week was an eventful one around campus and reminded me of the energy of our students and faculty.  I’m thankful for their efforts every day, but especially at this time when we pause our work schedules to recall and reflect on all the things for which we are so very grateful.  Last Wednesday evening I had the opportunity to attend CFANS’ evening of Giving Thanks for Scholarships, to thank donors and celebrate with student recipients of the generosity those donors provide.  We try to tell you about just some of the activities of students, but we don’t often pause to say thank you to our donors who contribute to scholarships, research, and many other University activities.  Those contributions enable the success of many students and we are humbled to recognize your generous and ongoing support.

November 14, 2019 was University of Minnesota’s Give to the Max Day.  Raising funds to refurbish our Physiology Teaching Lab space was one focus of the Animal Science Department.  Thanks to your generosity, the Animal Science Department raised over $3000 on Give to the Max Day! For that, our entire Department of Animal Science is thankful. I must confess that I dodged a major bullet.  You see, I, along with Drs. Tony Seykora, Melissa Palmer, and Beth Ventura, volunteered to participate in a “Slime a Professor” fundraiser.  While yours truly led much of the day, a generous benefactor came through at the last minute to sweep Dr. Seykora to infamy.  We thank Tony for his good sportsmanship!  He looked marvelous wearing the maroon and gold slime last Friday afternoon. 

Since the previous newsletter, I am proud to share the accomplishments of several of our students.     First, the UMN Dairy Judging Team won first place for the fifth consecutive year at the North American International Livestock Exposition in Louisville, KY (team members: Emily Annexstad, Eva Doornink, Kaleb Kruse, and Sierra Swanson; coaches: Les Hansen, Alicia Thurk Hiebert, Eric Houdek, and Gabriella Sorg).  Emily Annexstad finished first overall in the collegiate division, while her brother Matthias Annexstad (also an Animal Science major) was the high individual in the 4-H contest; and the Minnesota 4-H team also finished first in their division.  Additionally, the UMN Animal Welfare Judging Team (competing only since 2017) placed first for the second consecutive year at the 2019 Animal Welfare Assessment Contest held this past weekend at Colorado State University (team members:  Hailey Everhart, Brad Kelly, Sam Likar, Danielle Erika Moews-Lieberman, Liz Patton, Jessica Schutz, Maria Lou, and Erin Wynands.  Coach: Beth Ventura).  Hailey was high individual out of 95 participants.  I could not be more proud of these teams and how well they represent the UMN Department of Animal Science.

Have a Happy and Safe Thanksgiving. 


Dr. Mike Schutz
Department Head
Department of Animal Science 

Animal Science in the News