Leslie E. Johnson

Leslie E. Johnson

Leslie E. Johnson was born to Gilbert D. and Ora Ellen (Eckroat) Johnson on a farm near Oskaloosa, Iowa, in Mahaska County in the fall of 1905. He attended Penn College in Oskaloosa 1924-1926 and then enrolled at Iowa State College where he earned his B.S. degree in 1929, an M.S. degree in 1938 and a Ph.D. degree in 1941. In 1930 he married his college sweetheart Ruth Northey of Milford, Iowa, who graduated in home economics in 1928. They had three children. From 1929 to 1935, he served as vocational agriculture instructor at Winterset, Iowa, and for the following two years as an agronomist with the Soil Conservation Service for the USDA there.

As a graduate student at Iowa State College, he was an instructor for two years in the animal science department. He became Head of Animal Husbandry at South Dakota State College, Brookings, in 1947, where, under his direction, an extensive beef cattle experimental program was developed. He also advanced work there with both swine and sheep. In 1949, he returned to USDA work, this time in charge of all beef cattle research for the Bureau of Animal Industry in North Central States headquartered in Lincoln, Nebraska. In 1954 he was named Head of the Department of Animal Husbandry at Iowa State College, a position he held until succumbing of a brain tumor in 1965.

He had foreign assignments in cattle breeding for the International Cooperation Administration in Brazil, A.I.D. in Argentina and Uruguay and the Ford Foundation in Brazil. 1 He encouraged Israelis to protect and develop the Arab strain of cattle, suggested changes in slaughtering house techniques and urged beef grading according to age and kind.

Under Dr. Johnson's twelve years of leadership at Iowa State, one of the finest periods of university growth and expansion under President J. H. Hilton, the department experienced tremendous growth, laying the foundation that is still in place today. He possessed a broad understanding of the total program of research, extension and residence teaching. He compiled an outstanding record through his ability to attract top flight men to the department. As Head of Animal Science, he developed a singularly outstanding department in size and scope of interest; in research, teaching, and extension facilities; and in its contribution, during his time, to agriculture and science. Research areas had distinguished themselves in their discipline and had attracted a growing number of graduate students. Departmental focus during this period became sectional rather than unified, and the number of undergraduate students declined, but Johnson improved undergraduate teaching.

The centennial of Iowa State College was in 1959, and that year the name became Iowa State University of Science and Technology. To witness the stone masons change COLLEGE to UNIVERSITY on Beardshear Hall would have pleased President Pearson who proposed the change in the 1920's.


The animal breeding faculty was J. L. Lush, W. A. Craft, L. N. Hazel, L. D. McGilliard (1949-56) and A. E. Freeman (1956-2000). Inbreeding was studied in dairy, beef, and swine; a twin dairy project was started at Ankeny. The graduate program was the best in the world. In 1959, Lush was asked to study the genetic effects of irradiation in swine by the Atomic Energy Commission; the study was concluded in 1968. D. F. Cox (1960-68), R. L. Willham (1959-63), and Eric Andresen (1960-67), a swine blood group expert from Denmark, were the first faculty on this project. Facilities were constructed at the Bilsland farm near Madrid, Iowa, along with a laboratory building between the sheep and swine teaching barns. Avoidance behavior and mortality studies were initiated. In more than 30,000 swine, there was little evidence for significant genetic damage.

The swine nutrition faculty were D.V. Catron, L. H. Ashton (1951-56) and J. T. McCall (1961-64). When Catron left in 1959, he was replaced by two of his students, V. C. Speer (1957-90) and V. W. Hays (1954-66). Catron was a dynamic personality in tune with the interests of the feed companies. He directed more than 500 nutrition experiments at the State Street farm. Besides conducting basic and applied studies that gave the life-cycle program, the swine nutrition group reported in 1967 on swine confinement results before such was in vogue.

The beef nutrition faculty were Wise Burroughs, W. H. Hale (1952-56), S. A. Ewing (1958-64), W. R. Woods (1959-62), A. H. Trenkle (1961-) and R. L. Vetter (1961-77). Feedlot nutrition and cow-calf nutrition studies were reported in the annual Cattle Feeder's Day conducted yearly until 1982.

The dairy nutrition section, which rapidly evolved into the nutritional physiology section, faculty were N. L. Jacobson (1946-74), G. L. Wise (1946-19), B. H. Thomas (1931-49), and R. S. Allen (1951-66) who was joint with biochemistry. Research dealt with calf nutrition physiology and the conquest of bloat (conducted on the fields of the old research farm along Beach Avenue where C. Y. Stephens Auditorium now stands. A seventeen-year study of atherosclerosis was begun with a National Institutes of Health grant in the 1950's and used goats as a model. This was one of the early studies to investigate diet-health issues. D. C. Beitz replaced Allen in 1966 and J. W. Young came in 1965. Both developed basic research programs. A. D. McGilliard came in 1957 and quickly developed expertise in surgery to install monitoring devices necessary to the research program

Poultry was a separate department from 1947 until 1973. R. H. Forsythe became head in 1960 when undergraduate numbers were from 25 to 30. The graduate programs in breeding under A. W. Nordskog (1956) and in nutrition under S. L. Balloun (1950) were strong. Nutrition requirements and blood group research were conducted. Extension activities were done by L. Z. Eggleton (1960). W. W. Marion (1960), later head of poultry and head of food technology, conducted product research.

R. M. Melampy (1948) conducted reproductive physiology research, and his undergraduate reproduction course was considered to be one of the best. He was a taskmaster with graduate students, but he produced many leaders in the field. L. L. Anderson (1958), one of his students, joined the faculty. The Meats section added D. E. Goll (1962-94), F. C. Parrish (1965), D. G. Topel (1965), and later M. H. Stromer (1968). A research program that initiated the muscle biology section began. A new management research program started in 1961 with H. L. Self (1959). He was professor in charge of the outlying farms where the studies were conducted. W. F. Hoffman (1969-) was the first Ph.D. student

In summer 1965 all livestock was moved off campus for "lack of room." The animals were moved to pasture on the old agronomy farm; in the fall they found their home at what is now the Animal Science Teaching Farm. At the time, Dr. Johnson expressed that extensive work has and will continue to be done to improve the livestock area. He said he would like to remodel the beef barns and make the west side into a double pavilion and also divide the judging pavilion to house some pigs during the winter months so they could be on concrete floors for easy cleaning and sanitary purposes. Future remodeling plans were to include a new meat laboratory, to be located where sheep barns are at this time (1965) at an estimated cost of approximately $850,000; three research buildings, which will be used for small livestock research and added to the hog barn and pavilion, each to cost in the area of $140,000; and a new building, the same size as the new animal science building, may be erected directly north of it where the parking lot for the animal science personnel is now located. Dr. Johnson also stated that the beef barns would be supplied with screen doors for sanitary reasons, and a feed storage building and an office building may be built on the animal science teaching farm if funds can be raised to do so.2

The department moved into a new building in 1965 constructed just for the department. It is located in what was an old steer pasture in the northeast corner of the campus, west of the judging pavilion and the meat laboratory and was dedicated as Kildee Hall at a ceremony in Lush Auditorium in the summer of 1966 with Dean Kildee in attendance. Planning for the building began in 1962 and plans included there were one-person offices located around the parameter of each floor with the laboratories and classrooms in the center section. The main entrance has a mural depicting the history of Iowa livestock agriculture and the activities of the department that was created by Dwight Kirsch, a noted Iowa artist of the time.