Teaming up for interdisciplinary research, students study stress in cows

May 14, 2018
Research at Pioneer Farm
Research at Pioneer Farm
Research at Pioneer Farm
Research at Pioneer Farm
Analyzing cow research data

PLATTEVILLE, Wis. – In cross-campus collaboration, several University of Wisconsin-Platteville biology students have spent the semester conducting interdisciplinary research with animal science faculty and students on stress in the life of cows. 

As a part of his Advanced Physiology course, Dr. John Peterson, assistant professor of biology, has been leading the students in conducting weekly research at Pioneer Farm. Students were divided into groups and tasked with developing a project to test stress response in dairy cows.

One group studied how various water bucket colors – clear, green and black – affect calf feed intake and stress levels. Working closely with this group, another team of students studied calf behavior each week, looking for correlations in behavior and stress.

“We observed the behavior of 10 randomly selected calves of different ages for 30 minutes,” explained James Lemke, a biology major from Madison, Wisconsin. “We were also able to take salivary samples twice – once before the research and once after – and hope to get a reasonable conclusion based upon their cortisol levels once they have been analyzed. We also have a current log of their feed intake from the last month, and hope to draw conclusions from that as well.”

Another team of students studied the medical history of the cows, hoping to determine if past diseases like mastitis or pneumonia have an affect on the cow’s current milk production.

The projects gave the students a comprehensive look at the research process – from start to finish – beginning with drafting a proposal, timeline and budget for their project. All of the students were also required to complete online training on animal care and use before they could conduct research with the animals.

Several of the students agreed that the most rewarding part of the research was the opportunity to visit Pioneer Farm and learn more about an area that some knew little about.

“I’m a vegan, so it was a really cool experience just to see how hard farmers work and to experience being there with the cows,” said Jayde Babler, a junior biology major from Madison, Wisconsin. “We learned a lot of procedures that I never would have known about. I really appreciated Dr. Peterson pushing us to get more in-depth with our research – especially with something that I wasn’t really interested in at first. It’s cool that I got to take a chance and do something I never thought I would do.”

Written by: Alison Parkins, associate director of public relations, Communications, 608-342-1526,


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