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SDSU students selected for Undergraduate Beef Cattle Research Grant

Two South Dakota State University students were recently selected to receive a $2,500 grant sponsored by the South Dakota Cattlemen's Foundation to support two undergraduate beef cattle research projects. 

Katherine Moening
Katherine Moening

Student research projects submitted by Katherine Moening and Sydney Heins were selected by a committee of three SDSU research faculty from the Department of Animal Science, three beef producers involved in the South Dakota Cattlemen's Foundation, and John Blanton, College of Agriculture, Food and Environmental Sciences associate dean for research and director of the South Dakota Agricultural Experiment Station. 

"We had a strong group of applicants for the Undergraduate Beef Research Grants," said Roxanne Knock, Dakotaland Feeds nutritionist. "The work funded will be novel work in the industry." 

For the individuals to be selected, they were required to go through an application process that asked them to explain their research project idea and goals within the project. Additionally, they were asked to find at least one SDSU faculty member to serve as a research project mentor. 

Moening's research project mentor is Ana Clara Baiao Menezes, assistant professor of ruminant nutrition, and Heins' are Michael Gonda, professor, and Zachary Smith, assistant professor. 

Sydney Heins
Sydney Heins

The research project mentors will guide their mentees throughout their project. They will teach them how to perform analysis and how to analyze and interpret the data they collect throughout their research. 

Moening is a junior from Lakeville, Minnesota, double majoring in animal science and agricultural science and pursuing a minor in agricultural business. She is involved in Little International, Collegiate Cattlemen's Club, Swing Dancing Club and Jacks for Life Club on campus. 

“By working together on this research project, I am having the chance to see her growth. This is what truly makes me feel accomplished as an adviser,” Menezes said. "Katherine joined my research group during the spring 2023 semester, and on her first research trial she did a fantastic job studying nutrient metabolism and utilization by finishing cattle. Now she has the chance to perform a cow-calf study. I believe both experiences will make a difference for her. Katherine is very organized and dedicated, and I am excited to guide her and ensure she is successful." 

Moening's research will focus on immunoglobin concentrations in colostrum on days zero, one, two and three post-calving. Her overall goal for the project is to evaluate the impacts of phytogenic supplements pre- and post-calving on passive transfer of immunity from the dam to offspring. She will analyze the concentrations of immunoglobulins (IgG, IgA, and IgM) using radial immunodiffusion plates that allow her to determine the quantity or concentration of the different immunoglobins in the colostrum. 

"I know there were several applicants for this research grant, and I am truly honored to be one of the two to receive this grant," Moening said. "My adviser, Dr. Menezes, has put in countless hours of work to help prepare the logistics of this project, and I think her work deserves to be recognized through this grant. She is incredibly smart and talented, and I hope that by working under her guidance, I can gain a greater understanding of animal nutrition and apply that in my future career." 

Heins is a junior from Wayzata, Minnesota, studying animal science with a minor in biology. On campus, she is involved in Sigma Alpha, Little International and Collegiate Cattlemen's Club. 

"Sydney has been given the opportunity to not only contribute to a meaningful research project but also grow as an animal scientist," Gonda said. "I'm excited to see how Sydney grows as a student on this research project." 

Heins' project will test whether the value given by the Neogen Igenity Feeder Test is accurate. She plans to determine this by taking DNA samples from 170 SDSU feedlot calves and sending it to Neogen, then fattening the cattle to be harvested. Next, she will collect carcass data and compare numbers she calculated using body weight and rib fat phenotypes. She aims to provide another tool for beef producers to know if this test would be a beneficial investment. 

"I am extremely excited and thankful for this grant," Heins said. "This grant makes a significant difference for me because it allows me to take my passion and desire for cattle research to the next level and allows me to take the next step toward reaching my college and career goals. I am extremely grateful that I was selected and would like to extend a huge thank you to the South Dakota Cattlemen's Foundation. 

Smith said undergraduate research is an excellent tool to build a student's critical thinking toolbox. He enjoys that research is about finding the unknown and how humbling the experience is to see how much is not yet known. 

"The generosity of the South Dakota Cattlemen's Foundation is greatly appreciated," said John Jaeger, head of the Department of Animal Science and professor. "These grant funds will allow the Department of Animal Science to provide additional opportunities for undergraduate students to participate in research projects. Partaking in these projects also allows students to apply knowledge obtained from their courses, realize the importance of the course subject matter being taught, and participate in experiential learning. Additionally, these research endeavors often open doors for students by helping them identify new areas of interest or career opportunities."