Livestock research ‘going to do some of the very best science’

Serena Bettis

In case you forgot, Colorado State University is a land-grant institution, originally formed as an agricultural college. 

To further the University’s initial mission, the College of Agricultural Sciences and the College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences are teaming up to start the Sustainable Livestock Systems Collaborative.

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“I think the impetus really is that, you know, CSU is a land-grant university,” said Mark Zabel, CVMBS associate dean for research. “We still have a commitment to agriculture and to educating Coloradans centered around those issues.” 

Zabel said that while there will be no physical building or presence, the Sustainable Livestock Systems Collaborative will be a collection of stakeholders — researchers, policy makers and producers in the livestock, agriculture and dairy industries — coming together around the idea of sustainable farming practices. 

“The overall goal (is) to specifically engage with livestock production and to help producers at the grassroots (level) address firstly profitability, secondly their environmental footprint, thirdly animal health and lastly human health, particularly via food safety,” said Keith Belk, head of the department of animal sciences and co-chair of the steering committee.

Applications for director of the initiative recently closed, Belk said, and research is anticipated to begin by the fall semester of this year. Belk said they will be opening a couple more faculty positions in the coming months as well. 

It’s actually across our entire campus. Where we have students interested in sustainability, we’ve got scientists that are interested in it, and we’re going to be able to do great things by working together.” -James Pritchett, College of Agricultural Sciences interim dean

James Pritchett, interim dean of CAS, said professionals in the agriculture industry have been coming to CSU asking for answers to questions grounded in sustainability. The driving force behind much of the research conducted by the collaborative will be issues posed to CSU by those professionals.

“For example, as the climate changes and we have disrupted weather patterns and we have periods of drought or flood, how does that affect how we can grow crops?” Zabel asked. “We can do things like try to develop heartier strains of grain that can survive droughts or that can survive floods. We can develop better feeding and watering practices for our livestock.”

Belk added that research could be anything related to the environmental impact of farming, ranching and livestock production. Water use, water contamination, soil erosion, land management and production of greenhouse gases are all topics the collaborative wants to explore and find solutions to. 

The collaborative will not only provide faculty with more opportunities to conduct research, but will allow for undergraduate and graduate students to participate as well. 

“I am very committed to having all of our students — at every education level — coming together as research teams to solve these problems,” Zabel said. “In (the department of microbiology, immunology and pathology), we really emphasize undergraduate research. It’s our goal to be able to train each of our undergraduates in long-term substantive research experience.”

Pritchett said funding for the collaborative comes from repurposing a base budget that funded faculty members who have since retired or moved on, and the Office of the Provost will then match that with funding from student allocations from the general fund. 

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“We’re going to do some of the very best science to help create sustainable food systems,” Pritchett said. “It’s reaching across not just the college of agriculture or vet med, it’s actually across our entire campus. Where we have students interested in sustainability, we’ve got scientists that are interested in it, and we’re going to be able to do great things by working together.”

Serena Bettis can be reached at news@collegian.com or on Twitter @serenaroseb.