Chemistry is everywhere — even in the cuds of cattle.
That was one of many takeaways from one University of Wisconsin-Baraboo/Sauk County student’s undergraduate research project. Over the course of the fall semester, Desiree Buchholz set out to determine how the content of dairy cow feed impacts the quantity and quality of their milk production.
At the direction of UW-Baraboo chemistry professor Stephen Swallen, Buchholz compared the milk weight, butter mass production, and fat and protein content of Holstein and Jersey cattle from farms outside of Westfield and Harrisville.
“I wanted to see what breeds have the best butter production and how the feed affects that,” Buchholz said.
Her project and others will be on display at the university’s Honors Symposium Tuesday night. During the event, students will present their research in front of an audience and field questions on their methods, process and results.
Buchholz said the idea for her research project arose from her desire to pursue a career as a large-animal vet. She also grew up on a farm and works in the dairy industry.
Buchholz began her research by conducting a three-day pre-experiment on the Jerseys, collecting data to determine the averages of their milk and butter production. The next five days, she added 5 pounds of hay to their diet to observe the impact.
“That increased the PH of the rumen, which then increased the fat content in their milk,” Buchholz said. “We saw a slight change, some more than others.”
The rumen is the first stomach of a cow, which receives food or cud from the esophagus and partly digests it with the aid of bacteria.
“We found out that Jerseys by far produce more butter,” Buchholz said. “They have a much higher butterfat percentage in their milk than the Holsteins, and the feed does affect the butter productions with the adding of the hay because quite a few went up in their production.”
Through talking with farmers, Buchholz said she learned the reason for the difference is because Holsteins are bred to have higher milk production, whereas Jersey cattle are bred to produce more butter.
Swallen said there’s “tremendous potential” to apply Buchholz’s research to real farming operations.
“If we can figure out optimal feed to give cows, we can optimize the payoff,” he said. “It’s trying to find the sweet spot between cost and difficulty of feeding the cow, versus optimizing the value that you get in the end.”
Moving forward, Buchholz and Swallen said they may continue the research project into the spring semester, examining other variables. Buchholz said the project provided her with an opportunity to apply chemistry to her future career.
“I learned how to apply chemistry to the real world,” she said.