It must be in the genes

FARGO, N.D. - M.L. "Buck" Buchanan took over as the head of the animal sciences department at North Dakota State University in Fargo in 1946, serving there until 1976. Thirty-one years later, his youngest son and former student, David, stepped in...

FARGO, N.D. - M.L. "Buck" Buchanan took over as the head of the animal sciences department at North Dakota State University in Fargo in 1946, serving there until 1976. Thirty-one years later, his youngest son and former student, David, stepped into the same role.

An NDSU alumnus, having earned his bachelor's degree there before earning his master's and doctorate degrees at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, he has kept tabs on the animal sciences department during his 27 years on the animal sciences faculty at Oklahoma State University.

"I've paid attention to it all my life, so I became aware of the opening through that and various people I know here," he says.

When he interviewed at NDSU, it soon became apparent that the younger Buchanan would be much the same as the older.

"I learned from my own parents the importance of family," he says. "I wanted them to understand my priorities. They are faith, family and work, in that order."


He and his wife, Cindy, have three children - Michael, Peter and Amy.

Early years

He grew up on a farm between Glyndon and Hawley, Minn., while his father taught at the nearby university. They raised 30 to 40 head of Hereford cattle.

"I had bred cattle projects with 4-H from age 10 through my high school graduation. I had a steer every year, which involved feeding and caring for it and training it for show," he says.

He also began to take notice of bovine genetics.

"From the time I was quite young, I was filling in pedigree information on the important Hereford bulls."

He came to know many of the bulls, which bred many of the most important lines in the breed. During that same time, he started to notice his father's popularity with his students.

"I observed how he worked with his students," he says. "When I was growing up, students would show up at the house and I saw the kind of interaction between them. He was being involved with his students. In that era, a large percentage of the students were male, so he called them 'his boys.' He had maintained some of those relationships over the years, and that helped me understand what being a university teacher was all about."


As he continued with his own 4-H projects, watching his father began to help shape his ideas of his own future.

"That started to come into some clarity when I was a senior in high school - the idea of going into animal sciences and doing the things necessary to become a college professor," he says.

Genes in his genesHe spoke with his father about genetics and saw his inter-

est in the livestock industries. The elder Buchanan's graduate training was in genetics in the 1930s, long before the structure of DNA was understood.

"He was able to combine that technical expertise with what he had learned, along with the basic cowboy ideas, to how you select animals," he says.

Buck Buchanan led the university effort in understanding the dwarfism problem in Angus and Herefords cattle in the 1950s.

"A number of institutions were involved with that. And because of his interest in purebreds and other types of livestock, he had a considerable interest in the effects of in-breeding, which are primarily negative. They were helping producers understand that was very important - that these negative effects were carried through with livestock."

He attended NDSU and became one of his father's students, learning the science of genetics while seeing firsthand how he taught his classes. He went on to graduate school in Nebraska and, in 1980, joined the faculty at OSU.


Buchanan says he always thought that he'd one day like to continue his father's legacy at NDSU, but dismissed the possibility as unlikely.

In July of this year, he did just that.

At the helm"We are thrilled that David has come home," says D.C. Coston, NDSU vice president for agriculture and university extension. "He brings outstanding professional credentials and is greatly respected by the livestock industries of North Dakota."

Buchanan looks forward to continuing the tradition of excellence built in large part by his father.

"This is a great program, no question about it," he says. "We have some of the best scientists in the country in a number of areas. Historically, we have one the best teaching programs, and I'm a result of that. We put an emphasis in teaching and the students' needs and preparing them for leadership. Our extension programs here are among the most recognized in the country."

His responsibility to NDSU animal sciences is straightforward.

"Our job is to make sure this department really does take its place among the top programs in the country. It's important to focus on researching, teaching and extension.

"The department has a great many gifts contained in it and has accomplished tremendous things," he says. "I want to make sure it takes its proper place among the really great departments like it in the country."


Buchanan received the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food and Agricultural Sciences Excellence in Teaching Award in 2006. He teaches with the same concern for his students as did his father, though, with more than half of today's animal sciences students being women, he doesn't call them his boys, like his father did.

"They're my kids," he says.

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