Cows: What do cows involved in research look like?

Recently, Karl, the cow/calf herd manager at the research station where I am based, asked if I wanted to go look at the calves. I jumped on the opportunity, as it had been a few months since I had seen them, I also grabbed an office support staff member who missed the baby calf viewing.

Karl has this herd split into two groups, as they are easier to manage. Karl also explained that these cows have two roles, they are part research herd and part teaching herd.

Red cows - final
The calves are looking great – almost time for weaning.

As part of the physiology research herd, these cows may have blood drawn to look at progesterone levels, they may have different breeding synchronization methods, or they may be fed different feed rations to see how the fetus responds, and later how that calf performs in life.

Fun fact: cows that experience stress (i.e. diet limitations) while pregnant, have calves that generally do not perform as well as calves born to cows with minimal stress. By using cows as a model, we now know the same holds true for humans! To read more about cattle fetal programming, visit here, here, and here. Did you know cattle also have a 9 month gestation period just like humans?

black cows - final
The cows and calves are all fleshy and look great!

As part of the teaching herd, University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL) graduate students learn how to collect blood, help with various cattle tasks as needed, and may assist with surgeries if and when necessary. It is a very hands-on, real world approach.

ALL animals involved in research and the people who work directly with them, must be current on their IACUC (Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee) training, and all facilities are inspected twice a year to ensure they are safe for both animal and human. Read more about IACUC here.

pairs - final
Cow/calf pairs… (Left): A big bull calf is nursing his mother. (Right): A mama cow is checking out the denim piece over the calf’s eye. The calf got pinkeye. Once the eye has been treated the patch helps protect it from sun, dirt, flies, or other irritants. The patch will naturally fall off and is hopefully healed under the patch.

As you can see, these research cows are very healthy, have plentiful amounts of grass in their pastures, and appear to be happy. Karl and the UNL students ensure they are well taken care of daily! The research cows look just like any other cow that you may see in pastures! The cows also play a role in making advancements in human health and medicine, how cool is that!?

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Dr. Lindsay can also be found on:

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