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Grazing Efficiency in Cattle

College of Agricultural and Life Sciences undergraduate determines trends in cattle feeding efficiency

Ranchers love to hear experts say their cows are efficient when it comes to how well they convert food into muscle. If cattle can grow quickly while grazing, that benefits the rancher’s pocketbook, society’s use of land resources and the environment.

“Ranchers want to use fewer resources to feed and grow each animal,” said Cheyanne Myers, who majored in pre-veterinary studies at University of Idaho before graduating in December 2018. “If we can make a cow more efficient, we would use less land, less grazing time, feed use would be cut, and cattle’s contribution to greenhouse gases would decrease.”

"This opportunity changed my life. I honestly think that if more people knew about research, they would want to do it, too." Cheyanne Myers, pre-veterinary studies undergraduate

Myers, who was raised in Fruitland and always had an interest in cattle and agriculture, is working with U of I’s College of Agricultural and Life Sciences and Department of Animal and Veterinary Science Assistant Professor Gwinyai Chibisa. Myers wants to identify any links between efficient weight gain in cattle, where they graze, and the rate proteins are made and broken down, which determines muscle growth and wasting.

Her colleagues fed a regimented diet with no grazing to 16 cows at the Nancy M. Cummings Research, Extension and Education Center (NMCREEC) in Carmen. Cows were deemed “efficient” feeders if they ate less than predicted and “inefficient” feeders if they consumed more than predicted. Cows from both categories were assigned to the pasture at NMCREEC and the rangeland at Rinker Rock Creek Ranch in Hailey. Rangeland cattle should face greater rigors involving weather and exercise than the cattle in pasture, Myers said.

Myers extracted mRNA — instructions based on DNA used to construct proteins — from tissue samples taken from each cow. Specifically, she is interested in mRNA from 10 specific genes involved in the creation and breakdown of proteins. She will look for any links between the amount of mRNA in the tissue, how efficiently the cows build and break down proteins and the cattle’s grazing location. Her findings will help scientists understand the role of genes in feeding efficiency.

“I didn’t think that I would ever fall in love with research,” Myers said. “There’s just so much research to be done. We will never know everything.”

And this isn’t Myers' first rodeo, either. The 22-year-old completed two previous projects with Chibisa, including a study on the effects of transport-related stress in young calves, and was able to present her findings at a scientific conference in Vancouver, Canada.

Having graduated, Myers plans on applying for veterinary school and continuing to work with livestock. First, though, she’s continuing to pursue her research as a graduate student at U of I.

“This opportunity changed my life,” Myers said. “I honestly think that if more people knew about research, they would want to do it, too.”

Cheyanne Myers measures liquid into a tray.
Cheyanne Myers prepares a tray of samples for a polymerase chain reaction machine. The machine provides data about gene expression.

Cheyanne Myers is an OUR Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship and OUR Undergraduate Research Grant award recipient.

Article by Jordan Hawley, a junior from Emmett who is majoring in microbiology.

Photos by Olivia Heersink, a senior from Fruitland who is majoring in journalism with a minor in justice studies.

Published in March 2019.


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