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Students engage in dairy feed efficiency genetics research through internship at Iowa State

Three animal science students completed a dairy feed efficiency genetics internship this summer at Iowa State University. This internship was completed under the guidance of James Koltes, assistant professor in the Department of Animal Science specializing in dairy genetics. Students had the opportunity to work in both a research laboratory setting and gain hands-on experience at the Iowa State University dairy farm.

All three interns help collect feed intake data and help with sampling cows that contributes to the project on Holstein genetic evaluation for feed efficiency. This genetic tool called PTA saved genetic was produced by USDA, CDCB and FFAR grant collaborators as part of the CDCB/FFAR sponsored grant, “Improving dairy feed efficiency, sustainability, and profitability by impacting farmer’s breeding and culling decisions.”

This PTA Feed Saved project which stands for predicted transmitting ability, represents the expected pounds of feed saved per lactation by accounting for differences in the individual body weight and dry matter intake. PTA Feed Saved is being used by dairy farmers in the U.S. since December 2020 as a tool to select more feed efficient dairy cattle and is expected to have significant economic impact in the dairy industry by reducing feed demand and the associated cost for dairy farmers.

In addition to the students’ contribution to the PTA Feed Saved project, each student also had an individual project they worked on throughout the internship.

Maria Meyer with dairy cows


Maria Meyer, a junior in animal science, conducted an initial analysis of Cow Manager sensor data and performed data quality control and evaluated plots of data to identify trends relating to activity, temperature and rumination data from the sensors to feed intake and management factors.

“One of my favorite parts of the internship was the relationships formed. That most definitely includes relationships with the cows as well as the people. Being around them about every day allowed us to see their individual attitudes and personalities,” Meyer said.


Justin Costello and James Koltes in dairy calf barn


Improving research and data collection through information technology was studied by Justin Costello, animal science junior. He helped install cameras in the calf barn that will be able to monitor calves’ feeding and drinking behavior. The cameras will also be able to be seen by farm staff to help monitor the calves when no one is physically in the barn.

“My experience this summer has been very eye opening and I’ve learned much more than anticipated considering I come from a dairy background. My favorite part was working in the lab isolating DNA from raw blood samples,” said Costello.

Sydney Rigert


Sydney Rigert, a senior in animal science, isolated RNA and participated in the initial analysis of RNA-sequencing data from whole blood to identify genes associated with feed intake in Holstein dairy cattle.

The Department of Animal Science is now offering new certificate programs that focus on a certain species interest and providing hands-on learning opportunities to help propel you into a career in the industry. If you are interested attending Iowa State University and studying animal science or dairy science, please contact Justin Chapman. For more information on dairy internship opportunities at Iowa State, please contact James Koltes.


Listen here to learn more on Feed Saved:

Read more about the feed saved trait here:

Maria Meyer, Justin Costello, James Koltes, and Sydney Rigert

Maria Meyer, Justin Costello, James Koltes, Sydney Rigert