While a majority of UC Davis students try to deny the existence of cows on campus, an animal science class has gone one step further in the opposite direction – owning their own dairy farm.
The class, ANS 124, focuses on the process of lactation in all mammals. Taught by Professor Russ Hovey during winter quarter, the class participated in a student-run project – inducing lactation and milk production in dairy cows with hormones to replicate pregnancy.
Coming from the University of Vermont only a year ago, it was the first time Hovey attempted this type of project with 145 students.
Hovey explained he wanted to teach the students real life experience, and have them do something unique.
“A lot of students go to veterinary school and become dog and cat vets, so they will never touch a cow in their life,” he said. “From a classroom perspective, it gives the students more opportunity to learn and see firsthand what they have learned.“
At the beginning of winter quarter, the students were told that they would be completely in charge of a barn and would be taking care of dairy cows. The purpose of the project was to see how well hormone-induced lactation worked, Hovey explained.
“It was their project and in essence, I told the class that every student owned 1/145th of a dairy farm for the quarter,” he said.
However, some students were more involved than others. Hovey arranged for some students to be “Project Leaders” and “Picnic Day Leaders” who would essentially be undergraduate teaching assistants. They would be responsible for the behind-the-scenes duties and would help coordinate the project on behalf of the greater class. Students had to apply for the positions and at the end, nine students were chosen for each position.
Before the cows arrived, 45 students came to campus on two separate weekends to clean up the barn. Located off of La Rue Road, the barn was in poor condition before the students arrived, explained Hovey. After cleaning, however, the railings and walls were freshly painted, the entire barn was power-washed and the students even set up an office.
“The most difficult part was learning to work with a large group of people and being organized,” said Michael Sunshine, a senior animal science major.
Once the cows were in the class‘ possession, the real work began. Each student in the class had to complete one morning and one evening set of chores during the quarter. Chores began at 7 a.m. and 6 p.m. every day, and included cleaning, feeding and milking the cows as well taking blood samples for analysis.
The class was in charge of seven cows for the duration of the quarter. Each cow also had a name – Matilda, Patty, Priscilla, Mammatron, Bermuda Triangle, Bambi and Maggie.
While some students enjoyed the science and managerial responsibilities of the project, some had other interests as well.
One student, Chloe Thorn, painted the name and an accurate replication of each cow that now hangs above their heads. Other students are in the process of sending a proposal to the dean of animal science for money to fund a mural of a farm scene. Another student designed T-shirts for the class, while another designed a website that can be viewed by the public about their project.
“All students bring something different to the table,” Hovey said. “Some have an artistic flair.“
Even though the class is over, the students have decided to continue the experiment until Picnic Day this Saturday. When asked why they would extend the project, a few of them yelled as they did their chores, “Why not?”
“[The project] extends beyond the class,” said Maggie Rousseau, a Stanford University graduate who is at UC Davis through an extension program for animal sciences. “It’s not for the grade, but for the experience.“
Others had more practical reasons for continuing the experiment.
“[We continued] for the data and for the [research] paper,” said Jenna Quintero-Castaneda, a senior animal science major.
The class will present their results at the 20th annual Undergraduate Research, Scholarship, and Creative Activities Conference at UC Davis on Apr. 25. In addition, students are going to submit a paper to Explorations, the UC Davis journal for undergraduate research, according to Hovey.
Hovey believes that the students got really involved in the project for a variety of reasons.
“For some, they are fascinated by seeing things they’ve never seen before and others just enjoy being around the animals,” Hovey said. “A lot of it [could be explained by] pride as well – being able to come together as a class and work in terms of doing something for the school, cleaning facilities up and working together for something.“
The students have other explanations. Some like Rousseau wanted experience with cows for veterinary school, some like Sunshine thought it sounded interesting and would direct his career options, while others like Quintero-Castaneda thought it would be fun.
Despite all of their reasons, all of them agreed on one thing.
“[We want to] thank Russ for this opportunity,” said Candace Vansuch, a senior animal science major. “Without him, we wouldn’t have done this.“
The students will also hold events on Picnic Day. These events include cow patty bingo, a presentation of their findings, and a milking contest between professors and Picnic Day leaders. For more information on their events, check out their website at inducedlactation.webs.com.
NICK MARKWITH can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org.