Mentorship program connects the lab with the cattle ranch

Two Alberta scientists are among the quartet of researchers in the 2019-20 edition of the Beef Researcher Mentorship program.

The program pairs the researchers with innovative cattle producers and industry professionals — many from Alberta — for a one-year mentorship along with a travel budget to attend industry meetings, producer workshops, and farm tours. Among the goals of the program are to give the scientists a better understanding of, and connection to, the beef industry; encourage technology transfer; and help align research interests with the needs of the beef sector.

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This year’s mentees are Aklilu Alemu of Ag Canada’s Lethbridge Research and Development Centre, Peipei Zhang from the Lacombe Research and Development Centre, Marianne Villettaz Robichaud of the University of Montreal’s veterinary medicine faculty, and Matthew Links of the University of Saskatchewan.

Alemu is developing a Canadian whole-farm model called Holos that helps to implement a holistic approach in evaluating changes in management practices and its impact on total farm greenhouse gas emissions. After getting an undergrad animal sciences degree in Ethiopia, he obtained a master’s degree in ruminant nutrition at the University of Alberta and a PhD from the University of Manitoba.

His mentors are Brenna Grant, manager of Canfax Research Services, and the Fleming family (Duncan, Cecilie and their adult children Cooper and Ricki, and Ricki’s husband Justin Pittman), who own and operate Fleming Stock Farms near Granum. Duncan has worked in the purebred cattle sector for 45 years while Cecilie is a former president of the Alberta Angus Association and chair of the Verified Beef Production Plus (VBP+) program.

Zhang’s expertise is using a next-generation sequencing technique to solve meat microbiology-related issues, including improving meat shelf life using biopreservative strategies and control of pathogenic bacteria (such as E. coli O157:H7 and salmonella). She has a master’s degree in preventive veterinary medicine from Zhengjiang University and a PhD in agricultural science from the University of Tasmania.

Her mentors are Scott Entz, general manager of Cargill Meat’s High River operation, and Cathy Sharp, a Lacombe-area producer. Sharp is a longtime delegate with Alberta Beef Producers and is a director and executive board member on the Canadian Cattleman’s Association.

Links is an expert on genomics and his lab is studying interactions between animals and the microbes that live in or on them. His mentors are Feedlot Health Management Services, a feedlot consulting service in Okotoks, and Vermilion rancher Sean McGrath, who also provides consulting services on livestock genetics and ranch/range management.

Animal welfare expert Villettaz Robichaud has been paired with Nathalie Côté, a VBP+ program co-ordinator in Quebec, and beef producer and grain farmer Giacomo Zoia.

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