Undergraduate research projects provide hands-on opportunities to learn more.
A love of animals and learning prompted Sarah Peterson to seek opportunities to expand her knowledge beyond the classroom. As an animal and veterinary science student in the University of Idaho’s College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, she has discovered plenty of ways to get involved. Peterson has participated in four undergraduate research projects to push her studies further.
Peterson’s first experience with undergraduate research came as a freshman when she helped with a pig feed study. Since then, she has worked with Associate Professor Pedram Rezamand on a study looking at health issues related to abrupt and gradual weaning of dairy calves and a study investigating the effects of transportation related stress in dairy calves. She has also worked with Assistant Professor Denise Konetchy to research different treatments to clear Movi in domestic sheep.
In all four projects, Peterson has gained hands-on experience working with animals and how to conduct health checks. This includes taking temperatures, heart rate, respiration and drawing blood.
“I’ve learned how to draw blood and that’s been one of my goals for a really long time,” she said. “It wasn’t until the sheep trial that I was able to get it and it was the most rewarding feeling. People can try to explain it to you and explain what it feels like to hit the vein, but you don’t really know until you actually do it.”
All of the projects Peterson has worked on will result in direct impact to the agriculture industry. The weaning study will provide producers with advice on when they should wean their calves for overall health. The transportation study will help producers understand what health effects are associated with moving calves at an early age.
Movi (Mycoplasm ovipneumoniae) is an infection that results in pneumonia outbreaks in bighorn sheep, yet domestic sheep display few clinical signs of disease. Movi can be passed between the two through close contact and shared grazing areas. It can kill up to 80% of bighorn lambs and there is currently no vaccine, making this a serious concern for producers and wildlife managers.
“It is kind of a big issue in this area and southern Idaho where there are more sheep producers and where there are more wild sheep in the area,” Peterson said.
The research team looked at 30 Suffolk yearlings, 10 female and 20 males, that were infected with Movi and administered four different treatments. The first group received one initial antibiotic and no other treatment. Another group received an antibiotic treatment once a day for one week. The third and fourth groups received an antibiotic treatment and a nasal flush once a day for a week. One of those groups received a chlorhexidine flush and the other a betadine flush.
Peterson was responsible for administering treatments and conducting weekly health checks on the sheep, including a nasal swab similar to a COVID-19 test. Results from the nasal swab and health checks will now be analyzed by animal science graduate student Lauren Christensen to determine which method had the best results.
“We learn a lot in the classroom but it’s just pretty cool to get out and see stuff happening,” she said. “Especially with the sheep trial, I had just started Dr. Konetchy’s disease class, so it was really cool to see some of those things in person.”
Working with Animals
Originally from Martinez, California, Peterson came to U of I intending to become a veterinarian. But, as her education has progressed, she is now leaning more toward reproductive physiology and potentially furthering her studies in graduate school.
“I think reproduction is the coolest thing and that’s part of the reason I’m considering grad school,” she said. “I’m a huge nerd and I just want to learn more about it and have more experiences with it.”
Peterson will graduate in May 2022 with bachelor’s degrees in animal and veterinary science: production and dairy science options and is still exploring her future career options. Her experiences working on research trials has solidified her goals of working with animals in some capacity.
“I thought I wanted to be a vet but then I came here and realized there are so many other opportunities to work with animals,” she said. “I just like working with animals and being able to take care of them.”