Animal Magnetism

Published on Mon, 03/16/2015 - 12:00pm

Strong History of Success Draws Students to University of Tennessee Program


When Will Mayfield graduated from college, he already had a job as a field representative in the northeast with the American Angus Association. “I always wanted to work with beef cattle. And to know that I had a job immediately after graduation was very gratifying. I attribute this to the knowledge and skills I gained as a student in Animal Science at the University of Tennessee.” Now three years out, Mayfield has returned to Tennessee as the beef coordinator and reproductive management specialist for Southeast Select Sires. Many students in the UT College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources have jobs before they graduate. While a large proportion of UT graduates continue their education in professional or graduate studies, others launch into careers in all areas of animal agriculture, including beef cattle, swine, and poultry production. And there’s always keen interest in pre-veterinary studies — UT is home to one of an elite number of veterinary colleges in the United States. “We have a strong program in Animal Science here at the University of Tennessee,” says department head Neal Schrick. “The student population continues to grow and diversify. We are experiencing an influx of new faculty who are on the cutting edge of their fields in reproduction, nutrition, and animal health. We continue to examine and improve our curriculum to meet industry and professional school demands of our undergraduate and graduate students.”

Hands-on Experience for Students

A large percentage of last year’s seniors participated in at least one internship. These included experiences with the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association; JBS United; National Pork Board; Tyson Foods; and various zoos, aquariums, and farms. Research projects and other activities are also big. While most were performed within UT environs, some took place as far away as South Africa. More than a fourth of the seniors studied abroad in locations as diverse as Jamaica, Costa Rica, Australia, Ireland, and Germany. Students are also active in clubs and teams, including the department’s Pre-Vet Association, Dairy Club, Dairy Challenge Team, Poultry Club, Tennessee Collegiate Horseman’s Association, and Equestrian Team. Others participate in livestock or wool judging teams, beef or sheep show teams, or the American Society for Animal Science Academic Quadrathlon.

The Block & Bridle club is a perennial powerhouse. Through it, students conduct livestock judging events for 4-H or FFA students across the southeast and learn practical skills such as how to halter break a heifer and back a truck and trailer. In March, the club hosted its seventy-sixth annual Roundup — a livestock judging clinic for more than three-hundred 4-H and FFA students, judging contest, and collegiate showmanship showdown all in one. Students are given a beef heifer, sheep, hog, or dairy heifer to care for and train for two weeks. Then they take to the show ring to exhibit their skills and grooming expertise.


Live and Learn Internship

Aside from club activities, students can apply to work at a UT AgResearch and Education Center in exchange for room and board. There they might mix rations at the Johnson Animal Research and Teaching Unit, work at the dairy unit or with the university’s registered Angus cattle. These “Live and Learn Internships” are offered to undergraduate students from across the College, and pulling calves, giving vaccinations, artificially inseminating heifers, and working bulls are just a few of the things a student may learn.

The Department of Animal Science and East Tennessee AgResearch and Education Center have partnered to provide students with the opportunity to train some of the unit’s Angus bulls and heifers and show them at fairs and sales across Tennessee. Early mornings, long days, and late nights are all part of the deal with show cattle, and students enjoy this first-hand experience under the supervision of Brandon Beavers, the Center’s Blount Farm manager.


A Commitment to Livestock Judging

One of the most rewarding and valuable college activities is found not inside the classroom, but in the fields and barns of livestock producers. Livestock judging team members gain valuable exposure to these industry leaders while advancing their communication and critical thinking skills. In fact, livestock judging is more than teaching students how to place a class of animals. It teaches life lessons.

UT has a strong commitment to livestock judging and is one of the few schools in the southeast that continues to field a livestock judging team every year. Past team members are leaders in their fields, both in agriculture and beyond. Many point to their judging experiences as pivotal in their lives.


Students with Cutting-Edge Research Skills

As a land-grant university, part of UT’s mission is to advance society through innovative science. Professors in the classroom are also researchers in the lab and field, and undergraduate and graduate students are right there with them, taking ideas from discovery through innovation to application. A recent breakthrough with student involvement resulted in the startup company Fertility Focus, which was formed to take a technique for protecting the embryo during the critical first few days following embryo transfer to market. Highly applicable to beef and dairy producers, this discovery helps ensure cows carry their calves to term. The patented technology, EmGard, blocks the effects of the destructive hormone prostaglandin by preemptively binding with the embryo cells’ receptors.

“It’s essentially like protective Bubble Wrap for a developing embryo,” says Neal Schrick. He and professor Lannett Edwards, director of the department’s graduate studies program, hold an international patent for EmGard, which will be available to producers and practitioners. Schrick also says that that the College’s NAMA (National Agri-Marketing Association) club assisted greatly in developing marketing schemes by using a pseudo product for their marketing research and presentations last year. This student team coached by Dr. Emmit Rawls in the UT Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics included several Animal Science students, all of whom gained tremendous marketing insights and skills.


Customized Graduate Programs

The department’s flexible graduate program means students can tailor their programs to fit their needs and career goals. Graduate students can engage in research related to animal physiology (e.g., ruminant and monogastric nutrition, reproduction and stress) or health and well-being (immunology, genomics, microbiology, pre-harvest food safety or behavior). The department’s faculty are committed to conducting state of the art, discovery-based research that is also industry relevant. As part of their engagement in research, UT graduate students are provided hands-on learning with beef and dairy cattle, poultry, swine, and sheep and participate in Extension activities statewide.

Graduate research faculty challenge students to excel and to perform beyond what they think is possible. Critical thinking and communication skills are emphasized throughout the graduate student’s training. The result is competitiveness for top-ranked positions following completion of their graduate programs.


Trailblazing Alums

  • One way to gauge the caliber of an Animal Science program is by the quality of its alumni, and UT has some standouts:

  • Donnie Smith, B.S. ’80, president and CEO of Tyson Foods Inc., the $34.4 billion global meat and poultry retail corporation.

Jennifer Houston, B.S. ’81, newly elected chair of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association Federation of State Beef Councils.

  • Jim Herbert, B.S. ’63, president, CEO, and founder of biotechnology pioneer Neogen Corporation. Neogen excels in rapid diagnostic testing and has a portfolio of more than four hundred products for food and animal safety. Neogen’s GeneSeek is the world’s largest animal genomics laboratory, testing over one million samples last year.

  • Lacy Upchurch, B.S. ’67, M.S., ’77, seventh president of the Tennessee Farm Bureau Federation, the nation’s largest state farm bureau.

  • Julius Johnson, B.S. ’70, Commissioner of Agriculture for the state of Tennessee.


The UT Institute of Agriculture Delivers

Demand for college graduates of agricultural programs is on the rise. With jobs in the field forecast to exceed supply in the years ahead, USA Today named agriculture and natural resources as one of the five highest paying degrees of 2015. Enrollment in colleges of agriculture has grown 21 percent since 2006. Yet at the UT College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources, the pace has far exceeded that average, with the College’s numbers increasing by 60.5 percent.

The College is part of the UT Institute of Agriculture, which, through its researchers, specialists, and students, provides real-life solutions to the people of Tennessee and beyond through outreach, research, and teaching.


The Choice for Animal Science Majors

If your goal is to enroll in a top-notch program in Animal Science, you need to experience the possibilities at the University of Tennessee. As you can see, our program offers the depth and hands-on learning experience needed to start your career in this rewarding field. Visit our website at, or better yet, come see it for yourself. To schedule a tour, call 865-974-7286.