From the department chair

By Dr. Kent Weigel, Judge John J. Crown Chair in Dairy Genetics and Department Chair

Greetings from campus, as we welcome tens of thousands of new and continuing students back to Madison for the fall semester! Animal & Dairy Sciences is doing our part in this descent on campus as our department expects 88 new students to matriculate in September, a nearly 40 percent increase over last year.

The most newsworthy item in our department this fall is the launch of our new Animal and Veterinary Biosciences major. Approved earlier this summer, this major will replace our historical Animal Sciences major with a forward-looking curriculum that will prepare our students for veterinary school and countless other animal-related careers. The requirements are flexible, with students completing core courses in animal health, welfare, genetics, nutrition, and physiology, and then choosing from a broad array of courses in animal biology and related fields. Students who wish to pursue careers in veterinary medicine can meet the entrance requirements within the Animal and Veterinary Biosciences major, whereas those destined for a multitude of other career paths within our grand challenge areas of animal health & welfare, precision livestock farming, food safety, land & water stewardship, and biomedical advancements can pursue their passions.

On the faculty side, we have active searches for two new assistant professors, one that will build upon a traditional departmental strength, and one that will bring new research and teaching opportunities. With funding from the Dairy Innovation Hub, we are seeking a new faculty member in adaptive dairy cattle nutrition. This individual will carry out research and teaching that will help dairy farmers achieve optimal health and performance in their calves, heifers, and cows using nutritional management strategies that are resilient to the environmental and management challenges we will face in the coming decades. And, with strong support from Dean Gillaspy, we are seeking a new faculty member in companion and working animal biology. This individual’s research will focus on the health, nutrition, genetics, or physiology of our canine, feline, or equine friends, while their teaching will serve the interests of a growing number of undergraduate students who plan to pursue careers that will advance the care, feeding, housing, and training of companion and service animals in our society.

In terms of research, our faculty have been extremely successful in securing external funding this year, and a few samples of grants involving genetics and data science are highlighted in the newsletter. Guilherme Rosa received a $1M interdisciplinary grant from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) to integrate genomic data of beef cattle with soil, climate, forage, and weather data of livestock farms for the purpose of developing precision breeding strategies that will improve animal welfare, productivity, and resilience. Joao Dorea received $1M from the same program for his grant, which focuses on using computer vision (a coupling of digital images and artificial intelligence algorithms) to improve the metabolic health of dairy cows during the transition period before and after calving. In addition, Hasan Khatib received a $650,000 grant from the USDA-NIFA animal reproduction program to study epigenetics in sheep, specifically the impact of paternal nutrition on embryo development and reproductive efficiency in the next two generations. Steven Ricke and his collaborators were awarded a $297,000 from USDA’s NIFA’s AFRI Food Safety and Defense program for their project Harnessing iron metabolism to limit salmonella in pre- and post-harvest poultry. The goal of Steve’s project is to test the efficacy of promising new bioenergetic solutions to improve animal health and limit the transmission of harmful bacterial pathogens. Lastly, I was fortunate to secure at $650K grant from the USDA-NIFA animal genetics program, with focus on developing genomic predictions for resilience in U.S. dairy cattle, which will allow farmers to select animals that with consistent performance in the presence of environmental or management disturbances.

Thanks for your continued interest and support, and I hope you enjoy the articles.

Best regards,