COLLEGE STATION — The new Animal Science Teaching, Research and Extension Complex at Texas A&M University is poised to respond quickly to the rapid changes in the animal industry and in society as a whole, said Dr. Edward A. Hiler, vice chancellor for agriculture and life sciences, at the dedication of the new complex.
About 150 agricultural producers, community leaders and Texas A&M faculty and administrators attended the dedication and tours at the complex.
T. Michael O’Connor of Victoria, vice chair of the Board of Regents of the Texas A&M University System, said, “This is definitely a state-of-the-art facility and something we all need to be very proud of.”
O’Connor said it is extremely vital the university have a hands- on facility such as this, especially since at least 60 percent of the students enrolled in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences come from an urban background and have never handled animals before.
Graduate student Casey Cole, who is working on an animal nutrition study, said she felt the complex has only enhanced her education.
“It’s amazing. It’s much easier to work. Everything is in a controlled environment so it takes care of a lot of outside factors which would otherwise influence (my) study,” she said.
Jessica Stuart, another animal nutrition graduate student, said she would have normally driven 130 miles from College Station to the Texas Agricultural Experiment Station in McGregor to conduct her research on ruminant, or cud-chewing, animals.
“A research center like this has made it much easier on me. Now all we have to do is drive out here.”
Dr. Bryan Johnson, head of the department of animal science, said the complex is designed to help serve the needs of the livestock industry, an industry that contributes half of the gross agricultural income in Texas.
Concerns about the livestock industry stretch beyond the animals themselves, he said. Because livestock producers also deal with air, water and odor issues (and also to be a better neighbor to subdivisions), an environmental engineer designed the pit and lagoon system for animal waste. The design follows rules for confined animal feeding operations and records are filed voluntarily with the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission. Twenty-three wells monitor water quality and its movement and how many nutrients are “loaded” into the soil at the 580-acre complex.
While the complex is not identical to a commercial ranch or feedlot operation, it teaches students the issues facing agriculture and how best to deal with them. It expands the capacity of the animal science faculty for teaching and research, and allows Texas A&M to better serve commodity groups and producers through the educational programs of the Texas Agricultural Extension Service, Hiler said in an interview prior to the dedication. The Beef Cattle Center at the complex — which officially opened five years ago — has already been used for a wide range of activities such a short courses for ranchers.
“It’s an exciting facility,” Hiler said. “It is one-of-a-kind and one I think will probably position our students far above the other students in the nation.”
Facilities at the center include:
* The G. Rollie White Visitor Center, designed for visitor registration, has a large meeting room equipped with a full-service kitchen, a small conference room and an administrative office for the animal science complex manager.
* The Beef Center, which has been open since 1993, provides a state-of-the-art facility to teach students about modern cattle management practices and provides a functional setting for related Extension and research programs. It allows students to go directly from the classroom to practical application.
* The Nutrition and Physiology Center supports the department’s research programs in the areas of reproduction, energy metabolism, nutrient use, growth and development as well as disease resistance. The center also provides facilities to conduct intensive animal-based experiments. Students will be able to transfer and apply biotechnology research conducted at the Albert B. Alkek Institute of Biosciences and Technology in Houston to food and fiber-producing animals housed at the center. The entire facility is equipped with the latest waste management systems that include lagoons and composting systems.
* The Sheep and Goat Center will provide hands-on livestock production experience to students. The flexible classroom area allows animals to be quickly moved from the adjacent barns into the classroom for evaluation or student participation in shearing, semen collection and artificial insemination.
* The Instructional Swine Facility’s 10-crate farrowing room and nursery room for weaned pigs allows students hands-on experience in raising pigs. Groups of students from one class are assigned a sow one week prior to farrowing (giving birth), caring for her and her pigs until about five weeks after the pigs are weaned from the sow. This facility includes a pit ventilation and flush system which transports waste to a medical separator where solid waste then enters the enclosed composting system and liquid waste flows into the lagoon. This system contributes virtually no odor to the environment and provides natural compost used in landscaping on Texas A&M’s campus and recycled water for pasture irrigation.
* The Thomsen Center focuses on carefully-controlled animal behavior and stress studies involving cattle, swine, sheep and goats. Named in honor of Dr. Frederick L. Thomsen — who dedicated his life to promoting a realistic approach to resolving animal welfare issues – – the center will be important for research in the areas of animal behavior and cognition.