by Michelle Shumate

Honors students in Dr. Robert Dyer’s Animal and Food Science class, “Reproductive Physiology of Domestic Animals,” participated in a unique learning experience. Dr. Dyer’s course topics included issues involving animal reproduction, and more specifically, new management practices used for enhancing production. The five students enrolled in the Honors section were tasked with taking the coursework to another level and an opportunity to put their lessons to practical use. The project included using ten cows from the UD herd, and giving them shots of hormones at specific times so that they all get on the same cycle and come into heat (ovulate) together. “In this way, the farmers can be relatively sure that when they artificially inseminate them (inject semen) on the same day, the cows are at the optimal time to get pregnant,” says Stephanie Doran, Honors Student and Animal Science major.

Marissa Dick, a junior Pre-Vet Medicine major and Honors student, gained a new level of appreciation and understanding for dairy farmers from her work in this course. “Many people don’t realize that a dairy cow must be pregnant prior to producing milk,” she said. “Since dairy farmers use programs like ours all the time and are only getting about a 30% pregnancy rate in their herds, it really opens your eyes to the great challenge faced by the dairy industry in terms of effective management and maintaining profitability.” In the end, the students achieved much success with their project, successfully impregnating six of the ten cows – far exceeding the percentage that usually get pregnant with these types of programs. “What we learned here is something that can be conceptually applied in many other species to understand cyclicity better,” said fellow Honor student Meghan Fitzpatrick, junior Pre-Vet Medicine major. “Anyone can read a textbook and write a paper on what they learned, but working with cows, we learned a new skill that could not have been learned anywhere else,” she said.

Doran enjoyed the hands-on experience the project provided. “As an animal science major I get to say that I have done a lot of things not many people do in their lifetime,” she said. “Now I get to add getting six cows pregnant to that list.”

Dr. Dyer wasn’t surprised at the success of his students. “I think this could be marked in a success column because their learning experience extended far beyond the scope of reproductive biology,” he said. “These guys did exactly what we all knew they could do and in the process amazed themselves… I know I set the expectations for academic accomplishment very high for students. However, one of the greatest rewards in this position is to witness how most students inevitably rise to the challenge and surpass their own expectations. The reward is knowing students – who thought they lacked the intelligence, the work ethic and the drive to become high achievers – witness, through their own accomplishments, that they indeed can rise to any challenge.”