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Animal Scientist Tracks Trends to Improve Dairy Efficiency

Posted by struscott | August 18, 2009

Animal scientist Jude Capper wants to reduce the carbon footprint of the modern dairy system.

Jude Capper is a scientist in WSU's Department of Animal Sciences
Jude Capper is a scientist in WSU’s Department of Animal Sciences

Focusing her research and extension efforts on the environmental impact of dairy and beef production, Capper, an assistant professor of animal sciences at Washington State University, uses mathematical modeling to track milk yield, animal nutrition, crop production, manure management, and tractor use. Armed with an analysis of the entire dairy system, she is able to provide the industry with strategies for improving efficiency.

“Her role is to address issues of immediate relevance in the dairy industry and to help lead an invigorated undergraduate dairy program in the department,” said Margaret Benson, chair of the animal science department at WSU.

One of Capper’s research focuses has been the evaluation of the environmental impact of recombinant bovine somatotropin (rbST), an FDA-approved artificial growth hormone that enables cows to improve productivity. For a dairy, rbST means fewer cows are required to produce the same amount of milk, a fact that has a direct positive effect on the financial and environmental bottom line.

“On an individual cow basis, we get eight percent less manure, use less feed, less land, and less water (when supplemented with rbST),” Capper told the Cornell Daily Sun. “We get less methane, nitrogen and phosphorus produced per gallon of milk.”

Capper found that if rbST were used in a population of one million cows, the carbon footprint would be equivalent to taking 400,000 cars off the road or planting 300 million trees.

Capper is now looking into other issues important to the industry, including feed additives. She also continues to track industry trends and environmental impacts of dairying.

“This work is important everywhere, including the Pacific Northwest,” said Capper.

Born and raised in the United Kingdom, Capper knew she wanted to do something with animals from a fairly young age. She considered studying to be a veterinarian, but changed to animal science at Harper Adams University College, where she received her bachelor’s and Ph.D. degrees.

After completing her Ph.D., Capper took a position as a lecturer at the University of Worcester for two years before joining the animal science department at Cornell University as a post-doctoral research associate.

Since arriving at WSU in early May, Capper has settled in quite well. She said that everyone has been extremely helpful.

“She hit the ground running,” Benson said. “She has a network of ties with allied industry members and has support within the industry at a national level. The expertise Jude brings to our department is a great asset in enabling us to better serve our dairy industry. Her interest in identifying ways to help sustain productive, profitable and environmentally sound livestock operations is essential to animal agriculture’s long term viability.

“She also will be applying her expertise and enthusiasm in our academic programs. Capper’s teaching contributions will include traditional dairy courses. As well, she’ll be developing a course to assess and address the environmental impact of animal agriculture, a topic that is of immediate importance and relevance to our animal industries. Students with an interest in careers related to the dairy industry or environmental management of livestock are encouraged to visit with Dr. Capper.”

Capper’s position at WSU is part of the Unified Agricultural Initiative. The state-funded initiative was prepared with direction from leaders representing Washington’s diverse food and agriculture industry. The initiative’s goal is to build the economic viability and sustainability of the state’s $29 billion food and agriculture industry, which employs 170,000 people and is the second most diverse in the nation. Agriculture is the state’s largest industry.

Capper has met many of the extension specialists and dairy industry leaders at meetings she has been attending. “We’re excited to have her join our team and know that with her knowledge and expertise, WSU is better positioned to serve the Washington dairy industry,” Benson said.

— Holly Luka, CAHNRS Marketing and News intern