NDSU researcher retires

FARGO, N.D. -- Vern Anderson, one of North Dakota State University's prominent livestock researchers, has left the feedlot after 35 years and will move into a consulting business.


FARGO, N.D. -- Vern Anderson, one of North Dakota State University's prominent livestock researchers, has left the feedlot after 35 years and will move into a consulting business.

Anderson, 66, has been an animal scientist at the NDSU Carrington Research Extension Center. He retired March 31. A retirement event is scheduled from 2 to 4 p.m. April 11 at the center.

Julie Ellingson, state executive director of the North Dakota Stockmen's Association, called Anderson a "wonderful advocate" for the state beef industry. "He's innovative, common-sense, and we appreciated working alongside him."

Greg Lardy, NDSU animal science department chairman, called Anderson a "true public servant ... He's had a significant impact on beef cattle production and feedstuff utilization in the Northern Plains."

Anderson grew up on a farm near Watertown, S.D. He received bachelor's and master's degrees at South Dakota State University in Brookings. He came to North Dakota State University in 1979, where he earned his doctorate in 2000 at age 50. His entire career has been in Carrington. Initially, he was in charge of caring for and managing cattle. He says his career can be divided into a series of seven-year increments.


In 1986, NDSU Carrington Research Extension Center was created, under the direction of revered researcher Howard Olson. It was the template for seven research extension centers throughout the state, bringing together the research, as well as the communication focus.

In 1993, Anderson started on a doctorate and expanded into feedlot research, focusing on things such as distillers grains from ethanol production, wheat "mids" and other byproducts in the region.

"We looked at the broad use of many coproducts and the feeding of barley, and made recommendations for the best use of all of these coproducts," Anderson says. "That's a continuing saga." Many experienced cattle feeders are still discovering the nutritional value of the feedstuffs, as well as the challenges of storing and feeding them.

"One thing that stops them is price," Anderson says. "The price of coproducts is often higher per ton, but on a nutrient basis, it is often very competitive."

Starting in about 1998, NDSU started its Feedlot School program, which has attracted producers from seven states and Canadian provinces. "This year someone came from Namibia," Anderson says.

Also in 1998, the station built some bison pens and made its mark as the only bison nutrition research facility in the country. That project continued for about six years.

Around 2007, the station added a research specialist position, which has made it more productive with multiple studies, especially working with peas, barley and distillers grains. Anderson has also led studies on dry lot beef cow production.

"With diminishing pasture and hayland resources, producers who want to raise cattle sometimes struggle about how to do that," Anderson says. "Corn stover has become the new base forage for beef production and for cows, especially."


For the future

What's in the future for livestock? Anderson says the recently announced project using drones to study cattle in a feedlot in Carrington is one new area.

"I think it will be a useful tool, but the importance of it is to be determined. It depends on if we can actually tell the temperatures of animals from the sky, as well as other variables."

Anderson says he hopes North Dakota someday will fully capitalize on its supply of agricultural coproducts, many of which are now exported to other regions for feeding to cattle.

"I understand the reasons why," Anderson says. "For one thing, we've lost some of our livestock culture. Our resources are here, but the interest and the will to raise animals has waned."

Anderson expects to stay active in animal agriculture. In February 2012, he and Travis Maddock of Fargo, N.D., started a company called Dakota Global Livestock Solutions LLC, to provide livestock production support and consulting for people in this country and elsewhere. They provide information on feed usage, feasibility planning and technical support.

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