MSU-CVM Beef Program Experts Share Knowledge

   Liesel Schneider initially became aware of the challenges facing the cattle industry while growing up on her family’s Century Farm in Troy, Tennessee. From controlling disease to increasing profitability, Schneider knew she wanted to be a part of it.
   “My family had been in the Hereford cattle business,” said Schneider, a first-year doctor of veterinary medicine/Ph.D. student at the Mississippi State University College of Veterinary Medicine (CVM). “As part of family tradition, I got involved in livestock showing and judging. I learned a lot about animal husbandry through those experiences and knew that’s what I wanted to study.”
   As a high school student, Schneider started a Simmental cattle herd and got a taste of the livestock business. Raising and selling calves funded her education. She was admitted to the MSU College of Veterinary Medicine through the early entry program.
   “I started my freshman year knowing that I’d have a spot at CVM,” Schneider said. “During my time as an undergrad in animal and dairy sciences, I became involved in research projects, and my interest in a career in veterinary research grew. I decided to apply for the DVM/Ph.D. dual-degree program, but I wasn’t exactly sure what my research focus would be.”
   After graduating in December with her four-year degree, Schneider had one semester off before she was scheduled to enter CVM. She was introduced to Dr. David Smith, the first MSU-CVM Dr. Mikell and Mary Cheek Hall Davis Endowed Professor of Beef Cattle Health and Reproduction. Smith, a board-certified veterinary epidemiologist, came to CVM in 2013 from the University of Nebraska’s School of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences.
   Through funds generated from the Davises’ endowment, Smith was able to hire Schneider to work on epidemiological research projects before she began her classes.
   “The Davises’ endowment has been such a tremendous gift to the college and the field. It gives us the ability to foster new research with undergraduate, professional and graduate students,” Smith said. “Because of the endowment, we have been able to support three MSU undergraduate students working on beef-cattle-related research, fund research allowing two veterinary students to complete summer research projects and provide population medicine experiences for veterinary students from the University of Missouri and the University of Sydney.”
   With nearly a million cattle in Mississippi’s 82 counties, meeting producers’ needs is a priority for MSU’s veterinary college. Smith’s 30 years of experience in cattle production systems and disease control prepared him to assist the 17,000 beef cattle farms in Mississippi. Since arriving at CVM, Smith has involved students in every aspect of fieldwork and research to address industry challenges.
   Schneider dove into disease research. She has submitted abstracts at national meetings and has been recognized for her work. She won second place in the annual Association of Bovine Practitioners’ graduate student competition for her study on factors affecting E.coli O157:H7 hide contamination in feedlot cattle. She was also awarded for a presentation on the effect of morbidity on weaning weight of beef calves at the Conference for Research Workers in Animal Disease.
   “Liesel’s research, along with projects being conducted by Min Wang and Danielle Doyle, also Ph.D. students, will be directly useful to cattle producers,” Smith said. “The students are learning, and the industry is benefiting.”
   Smith and his team are sharing expertise and resources with the MSU Department of Animal and Dairy Sciences.
   “We are trying to anticipate questions the beef industry will be asking as the industry evolves. For example, we are studying ways to prevent pneumonia in calves,” Smith said. “It’s important to give producers alternatives to antibiotics, something outside of mass medication. It’s nice to get students involved in this kind of tangible research early in their careers.”
   In addition to finding ways to prevent and treat disease, Smith wants to identify more efficient ways to capture important information on the state’s cow-calf and stocker cattle.
   “We want to use health and performance records to make good management decisions,” he said. “But there is also useful information that can add value to the cattle. We need to learn what data are most worthwhile and then record them in a system that is easy to use.”
   To meet this need, the Risk Project, a team of faculty members interested in population medicine, sought and received a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture National Institute of Food and Agriculture. The grant supports purchasing computers to teach producers, veterinarians and students how to use animal production and health software.
   “Technology and partnerships are key,” Smith said. “This software system will make the health-recording process less cumbersome and more user-friendly. This is a way to build an even more viable business model for the state and, at the same time, improve the health and well-being of cattle.”
   Dr. Carla Huston, an associate professor at CVM, is working with faculty and students to learn more about what the beef industry needs in the future. She is developing a comprehensive survey to determine what veterinarians can provide the state’s rural producers, as well as a survey on Mississippi community needs in regards to large-animal care.
   “We get out to the field and the producers as much as we can, whether it is through on-farm visits, research or participating in producer meetings,” Smith said. “We want to keep them updated and know more about what we can do for them.”
   Dr. Mikell Davis, who retired from MSU after a long career of teaching and administration, gets to see firsthand that the endowment he and his wife created is helping the next generation of veterinarians, as well as the state’s growing industry.
   “With the work and the research being done through the beef program, many opportunities for the food animal industry are being presented,” he said. “Dr. Smith’s research and approach is allowing the industry to take that next step and deliver an even better, higher-quality product.”
Involving students takes the research and veterinary medical experience to the next level, Davis said.
   “It is just fantastic to see these veterinary students involved in epidemiology and food animal medicine,” he said. “This leads them to opportunities and allows them, even before graduation, to be major contributors to food animal health. They are truly ahead of the curve.” ∆

Dr. David Smith, a professor of beef cattle health and reproduction at the Mississippi State University
College of Veterinary Medicine, has 30 years of experience in cattle production systems and disease
control, which he is sharing with students and the state’s beef cattle producers.  
Photo by MSU-CVM/Tom Thompson

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