Taking the classroom into the barn

Hands-on practice helps student learning stick

The Ruminant Digestion, Metabolism and Nutrition course at UAlberta benefits from hands-on industry participation

ANSC461/AFNS561 is a “must-have” course for any student wanting to improve their knowledge and understand the principles of ruminant nutrition, digestive physiology and metabolism—and apply this knowledge in commercial dairy and beef operations.

“Industry contribution provides great opportunities for students to better understand the industry and put their skills in practice,” said course co-teacher and Gentec researcher, Dr Ghader Manafiazar.

One beef farm Blindman Beef and Bison Farm (check out the incredible photography) and one dairy farm Tuxedo Farm Ltd kindly volunteered to host the students and provide the required information for them to complete their project.

Blindman Beef and Bison Farm sits beside the Blindman River in the south-central region of Alberta, with about 300 Angus and Beefbooster cow-calf pairs. The farm backgrounds its own calves as a better marketing practice. Assar Grinde, the owner, is highly concerned about and focused on the animals’ welfare, practising antimicrobial stewardship and environmentally sustainability, and having third-party verification for the farm’s practices. Assar shared his pasture management, bale grazing, weaning, and grain processing practices in addition to feed and water analysis with the students.

Tuxedo farms Ltd. is a family owned and operated farm located northeast of Westlock, in North-Central Alberta. Diversification is a major goal. The farm feeds high-quality, home-grown corn, barley and hay to its dairy (337 cows, of which 285 milking cows) and beef herds. Management added 120 free-stalls in 2018, and will add more in coming years. The farm is equipped with advanced technologies, such as Herd Navigator and a body-condition scoring camera. Herd Navigator detects sick animals for treatment and those producing less than 10 L/day to go dry. Nelson Jespersen, the manager, asked his nutritionist, Jamie McAlister, and herd manager, Francis Kavanagh, to participate in our two visits, allowing the students to discuss many aspects of the dairy farm business and management in smaller groups with them.

At the end of the semester, teams of students presented their recommendations to Ghader and the farmers, with an opportunity for discussion and feedback.

“It’s one thing to learn theory in class,” says Ghader. “Learning by doing sticks better. Overall, the students appreciated the opportunity to act as a consultant and put their knowledge into practice.”

Ghader also invited Barry Robinson (a private consultant), Kris Wierenga (regional manager with Shur-Gain feed mills), Myrddin Jespersen (farm owner) and John Stephen (Senior Sales Professional with Elanco) to present on the opportunities and challenges in different segments of the industry. Barry talked about his experience as a nutritionist; Myrddin discussed the opportunities and challenges of owning and managing a dairy, beef and grain farm; John shared his insight about the pharmaceutical industry; and Kris talked about the commercial feed industry. This session encouraged students to look for the opportunities in these sectors and expand their networks.

“It’s important for industry to be part of this course,” says Ghader. “Their contribution allows students to see where they can fit their skills and what other skills they need before entering the workforce.”

Posted in Academic.