Two students from the Agricultural Technology Program presented their research projects on December 2 as part of the John Lee Pratt Animal Nutrition Senior Fellows program. The program promotes the study of animal nutrition across departments throughout the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

Amber Edwards and Matthew Lucas were selected to participate as the 2021-2022 Agricultural Technology Pratt Undergraduate Research Scholars and have each been awarded a $3,000 scholarship. An additional $2,000 per student is awarded to the faculty advisor for supplies, student travel, and other related research activities.

Their project examined the weight gain and health benefits of creep feeding calves. The students and their faculty advisor, Agricultural Technology advanced instructor Wesley Gwaltney, worked with local cattle farmer Daniel Givens of Double M Farms in Newport, Va. Mr. Givens had reported a recent spike in respiratory issues with his freshly weaned calves and wondered if creep feeding might improve the overall health of his weaned calves.

The project had an unusual start as the original concept was the work of Faith Carrick and Cameron Lee, both Agricultural Technology spring 2021 graduates. Supply chain difficulties prevented procuring creep feeders in time for the study. Faith and Cameron ultimately did a great job with a strip grazing project at the Giles County Agriculture Land Lab, in association with Giles County Public Schools in Pearisburg, Va. Amber and Matthew were able to continue the project during the fall semester, adding their own research while enhancing their skill sets.   

Mr. Gwaltney said, "I have been really impressed with Amber and Matthew’s patience and skill in cattle working.  One unique aspect of this project was the students had to weigh these calves in pastures with very basic facilities. They did a great job of safely and efficiently working these calves. I think this is a skill that will benefit them both in their future careers."  

The students also gained experience with collaborating with a team of experts to complete the research, much like farmers do to solve issues on their operations. Dr. John Currin, a professor at the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine, helped with the design of the project and served as a resource to the students. The students utilized a portable chute and scale from the veterinary school to weigh the calves in their respective pastures. Tarter USA donated three creep feeders for the project.

Both recipients appreciated the applied nature of the research project. “I enjoyed the research for the scholarship because of the hands-on aspect of it,” Matthew said.  “The most efficient way to learn about something is to get your hands dirty and get out in the field.”  According to Amber, “This has furthered allowed me to gain hands-on experience with real problems that producers experience and to find solutions that are financially feasible and beneficial to them. This Scholarship has also taught me how to present my research in a formal manner to my fellow scholarship peers.”

Edwards and Lucas were selected as John Lee Pratt Ag Tech Research Scholars from all Agricultural Technology Program students in the Applied Agriculture Management option based on their academic success, leadership, and interest in animal nutrition. To be considered for this program, a research proposal and letter of application from the student and his or her faculty advisor are required.

The student scholarships are provided by the John Lee Pratt Foundation to encourage highly qualified students to pursue study in animal nutrition through a rewarding research project under the guidance of a faculty advisor. The funding is made available through a bequest of John Lee Pratt, a native Virginian, cattle owner, and, at one time, the CEO of General Motors.