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NE-SARE Grants Awarded to Penn State Animal Science Students

Posted: September 27, 2016

Graduate Students Michael Harper and Amy Mayer received competitive grants through USDA's Northeast Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program.

Two graduate students from Penn State's Department of Animal Science are among 13 from the College of Agricultural Sciences who received grants from USDA's Northeast Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) program. These competitive grants were part of a total of 27 graduate student awards made by NE-SARE in 2016, each valued at $14,000-$15,000.

The two students are: Michael Harper, Barto, Berks County; and Amy Mayer, Dalton, Wyoming County. Both received their undergraduate degrees from Penn State. Harper's research is focused on evaluating dwarf pearl millet as a forage for lactating dairy cows and Mayer is studying renewable alternative bedding for commercial broiler chicken production.

Dr. Terry Etherton, Head of the Department of Animal Science, said, "We are so proud of our graduate students and their success in receiving these very competitive awards. It is a testimony to the diligence and resourcefulness of our students and faculty, and a demonstration of the Department and the College's commitment to research in sustainable agriculture that is both practical and economically helpful. The results from both research projects will be of value to two of Pennsylvania's most valuable agricultural industries."

Alexander Hristov, Ph.D., Professor of Dairy Nutrition, is Harper's adviser; Paul Patterson, Ph.D., Professor of Poultry Science, is Mayer's adviser.

Harper's research will look at the possibility for dairy farmers to have additional options to increase their financial and economic sustainability, offering alternative forages to corn silage and alfalfa haylage. He explained that he will use the grant to study the potential for pearl millet silage to support high milk production in a feeding trial with lactating cows. If the results are positive, pearl millet could be incorporated on farms in a larger crop plan as a rotation crop for corn, with the possibility of reducing reliance on chemical pesticides, increasing soil health while increasing farmer's sustainability.

Harper's goal is to work as a nutritionist and dairy management consultant with a focus on high forage rations and grazing dairies. Additionally, he hopes to own a grazing-based livestock farm.

Mayer's research will concentrate on how best to process alternative renewable plant resources for uniform and reliable bedding in broiler houses. Working with switchgrass and biomass willow, Mayer said both plants can be grown on marginal lands and have been already demonstrated to grow well in Pennsylvania. She noted that growing their own bedding material would relieve the concern about the availability and price fluctuations of the wood products they currently use. Once planted, these plants offer many years of bedding harvests.

The second facet of her research is studying the energy concentration of the used bedding, including the possibility of burning spent poultry litter in biomass burners. Because heating the chicken houses is the primary use of energy on the farm, this option would reduce both propane costs and reliance on fossil fuels as the spent litter is used to heat the chicken houses.

Mayer hopes to work in either agricultural extension/teaching or in poultry research in live production/achieving environmental goals with current and evolving production methods.