Student Stories: Animal Science major savors lab experience related to cows

Most folks never think about it, but cows contribute many things to our daily lives, and Alicia Rickabaugh learned all about them last year.

A senior Animal Science major at Penn State, she worked with graduate students doing a variety of projects concerning cows in a dairy cattle nutrition laboratory in the College of Agricultural Sciences.

"We worked with everything that goes in and comes out of the cow," the State College, Pa., native said. While, for some, this may sound like an unpleasant job, Rickabaugh was pleased to participate in lab work so important for learning how to manage cows to produce the highest-quality products.

"We measured pH and analyzed volatile fatty acids," she said. "We also took samples of feed and analyzed dry matter. We were charged with making sure the cows were fed the proper diet and taken care of every day.

"Our research is helping farmers learn how to manage their herds to produce the healthiest products and animals at a lower cost. Researchers were trying to determine what the cow needs to stay healthy."

She monitored the cows' behavior and took many samples, collecting colostrum, blood and feces to analyze. Rumen samples also were taken from one of the cows' four stomach compartments. The rumen allows cattle to digest cellulose, which is a common carbohydrate in plants.

All in all, Rickabaugh enjoyed the work. However, a few things did go awry. "Once during a rumen dump I dropped my cell phone in the rumen contents," she recalled. "That was not good!"

But what was good -- really good -- she noted, was working with the doctoral and master's degree candidates and the professor who runs the lab, a recognized authority in his field. "I learned so much, and I built a bond with everyone there," she said.

"Someday they could be a great asset to help me find a job."

Learn more about the Animal Science major.

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Last Updated August 21, 2013