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Animal science students present research, participate in educational contests at American Society of Animal Science meetings

Student holding plaque.
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Animal science students competed in academic quadrathlon.
From left: Animal science students Duncan Poindexter, Madison Kovarna, Sam Keating and Logan Tesch, competed in the academic quadrathlon at the American Society of Animal Science Midwest Section meetings.

South Dakota State University students in the Animal Science Department presented research and competed in the academic quadrathlon at the American Society of Animal Science Midwest Section meetings in Omaha, Nebraska, March 2-4. Madison Kovarna, a junior animal science major from Merrill, Iowa, won her division in the Undergraduate Research Poster Competition. The academic quadrathlon team placed in the top three in several divisions of the contest.

Kovarna presented a poster about her undergraduate research project titled, “Factors associated with birthing interval and total farrowing duration in sows and gilts within a production setting.” Kovarna worked with assistant professor Crystal Levesque on the project.

The purpose of their research was to evaluate the current farrowing protocol of sleeving, or manually checking a sow or gilt in active labor if the time between two piglets being born is longer than 20 minutes and to continue manually checking every 20 minutes until another piglet is born. She started working on the project in August 2019.

“We collected data about farrowing times of 80 litters from previous sow research projects and took a new spin on analyzing the data that was provided,” Kovarna said. “We analyzed total farrowing duration and birth interval and focused on four factors that could affect those times: feed intake time prior to farrowing, parity of the sow (how many litters she has had), litter size and piglet birth order. We found that of the four factors, the two that had statistical differences were litter size and piglet birth order.”

The litter size and piglet birth order had a significant effect on birth interval. Sows and gilts with larger litters had a shorter average interval between piglets being born. Piglets born first through fourth and after thirteenth had the longest interval between each piglet being born at close to an average of 30 minutes. Common industry assumption is an average of 20 minutes between each piglet being born. The piglets born fifth through twelfth averaged around 20 minutes between each piglet being born.

Their research showed the four factors did not significantly impact farrowing duration, however they found that parity two and three sows were the most efficient during the birthing process, parity four and five sows were the least efficient, and parity zero and one sows and gilts fell between them.

“We concluded that sleeving protocols need to be revised with consideration for piglet birth order in which there is longer time between sleeving events, particularly for the first few piglets and after thirteen piglets,” Kovarna said.

Kovarna got involved with undergraduate research when her lab instructor in the Introduction to Animal Science course asked if she wanted to be an undergraduate assistant in the swine nutrition lab.

“From there I started analyzing a feed diet and slowly have become more involved with other projects and have conducted two as an undergraduate researcher,” Kovarna said. “I give undergraduate research credit for challenging me and allowing me to grow into a stronger student as well as a better individual. I have gained close relationships with many of the graduate students, faculty and industry specialists through working on projects and attending conferences. I have learned time management, verbal and written communication skills, and countless other skills.”

Academic Quadrathlon

The academic quadrathlon team competed against 12 teams from other universities across the Upper Midwest and placed third in two of the four divisions that make up the regional contest. They placed third in the written exam and oral presentation divisions. The contest also included a lab practical and quiz bowl competition.

Team members included Sam Keating, sophomore animal science student from Winterset, Iowa; Logan Tesch, sophomore animal science student from Henderson, Minnesota; Madison Kovarna, junior animal science student from Merrill, Iowa; and Duncan Poindexter, sophomore animal science student from Greensboro, North Carolina.

“Competing in the academic quadrathlon was a great opportunity to talk to and learn from others that are in the same field of study,” Keating said.

The team qualified for the regional event by winning the local competition in which 19 teams participated.

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The participants were also able to attend presentations on current research in their areas of interest.