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WCROC Features from the Farm: Student spotlight

Graduate student, Kirsten Sharpe, with the WCROC dairy herd. WCROC photo

Student: Kirsten Sharpe

Hometown: Bemidji

Degree pursuing: masters in animal science

Advisor: associate professor Bradley J. Heins

Research focus: Electric and thermal energy usage in dairy farms, and exploring nutritional aspects of pre-weaned organic calves in automatic calf feeders

Why did you choose your current field of study?

My experiences growing up in the northern part of the state, combined with what I've learned by living in west central Minnesota has deepened my knowledge of the processes of the natural world and given me insight into how we, as members of the agricultural community, harmonize with the natural environment by working with, in, and for it. I am lucky enough to have found a program and an advisor that allows me to apply my experiences and passions into valuable research.

With growing interest and concern on the effects of fossil energy consumption and resulting greenhouse gas emissions, consumers are demanding more sustainably-produced food. Some producers are wondering how they might be able to meet those consumer pressures. In investigating electric and thermal energy use in dairies, my goal is to better understand where and how energy is used in dairy production systems. I am confident that I can help dairy producers meet rising sustainability demands by targeting areas within their own operations where there is potential to reduce fossil energy use.

Lastly, I have been fortunate enough to apply my passion for animals directly into working with calves from birth to weaning. Nutrition and health of replacement heifer calves can have a major impact on the profitability of the entire dairy operation. Providing optimum nutrition to calves is imperative to ensuring a successful milking cow later in life. My goal is to investigate nutritional and health differences between feeding milk replacer versus whole milk to pre-weaned dairy calves in an automatic-feeder system. The health data will then be used to determine which might be more profitable to producers and their operations.

Why did you choose the University of Minnesota?

During my junior year of undergraduate studies at the University of Minnesota, Morris, I took a job working at the University of Minnesota's West Central Research and Outreach Center (WCROC) in the dairy. I can honestly say that taking that job was the best decision I have ever made. Before I had been introduced to the WCROC, graduate school was not part of my plan after graduation. However, after working and interning at the WCROC and listening to the experience of other animal science graduate students, it was clear to me that the U of M College of Food, Agriculture, and Natural Resource Sciences would help me in furthering my educational goals and my itch to learn through hands-on and applied research.

In what ways has your involvement at the West Central Research and Outreach Center enhanced your educational experience?

While working at the WCROC, I have gained experiences in many areas including swine, dairy, crop production, and renewable energy. I have taken full advantage of the amazing resources that the WCROC has to offer. I've always had an intense desire to learn, and the WCROC provides me ample hands-on learning experience and challenges that force me to think in creative ways. Further, as one of the WCROC's goals is to work with and provide results and solutions to producers, I have had many opportunities to learn about and interact with agricultural operations outside of the WCROC.

What has been a highlight during your time at the WCROC?

The experience and opportunities I have gained at the WCROC are of truly inestimable worth, and the number of highlights are countless! Some of my top highlights include interacting with and learning from producers, organizing and leading tours for members of the community, and working directly with animals. However, to me, the most important aspect of the WCROC are the amazing people I am fortunate to work with every day.

What are your future plans?

I thoroughly enjoy organizing and conducting experiments and would love to work in a research setting. Whether it be in industrial or government research or extension, I hope to help advance the animal science field by conducting studies that produce significant, interesting, and applicable findings.