Three University of Missouri College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources (CAFNR) students took home fifth place in the undergraduate division at the recent Animal Welfare Evaluation Contest at Colorado State University. The annual event featured 22 undergraduate teams and 95 undergraduate students.
Junior Chloe Momphard (Troy, Mo.) tied for fifth place. Senior Jewel Gant (Schaumburg, Ill.) and junior Elyse Lederer (St. Louis, Mo.) finished in the top third of competitors as well. All three students are working toward degrees in animal sciences at MU.
“To say I am proud of these students is an understatement,” said Nichole Anderson, assistant teaching professor in the Division of Animal Sciences and coach of the team. “It was an incredibly competitive competition – we were only three points away from fourth place and just one point ahead of the sixth-place finisher. Our team worked incredibly hard to be completely prepared for the competition.”
The contest was broken into three parts over two days. The first day featured a live scenario that students walk through as a team, with this year’s competition showcasing a meat processing facility that was recently shut down due to non-compliance. Each team had 20 minutes to look at the complete situation, from the records and audit paperwork to the actual facility. The students then grouped together and created reasons which showed how the plant could reopen, as well as suggestions for long-term improvements.
“The students share their reasons with a panel of judges,” Anderson said. “They must also answer judges’ questions.”
The students worked individually during the second day of competition. Each student was presented three different species of animals, with two different environments for each species to compare. The competitors were tasked with picking which environment showcased the best welfare. The students turned in placings for each scenario – and then went in front of judges to explain their reasoning. Again, competitors had to answer questions from the judges.
“The goal is for students to search through the data and make judgments regarding which situation has better animal health, allows for more natural behavior expression, and allows animals to minimize stress and maximize their mental state,” Anderson said. “All reasons given to the judges must contain multiple scientific citations. These reasons contain actual data and students need to be prepared to discuss recommended stocking density, dietary requirements, ideal enrichment sources and climate control for each species each year. Therefore, my students receive a lot of training in how to find scientific data and papers. Each student who attended the contest likely read close to 40 or 50 scientific documents, mostly peer-reviewed scientific papers or guideline documents that serve as the gold-standard care for each species.”
This is Anderson’s second year coaching the Mizzou team. Interested students can enroll in a course related to the team (AN_SCI 2116: Animal Welfare Evaluation). That course is permission only, and Anderson said she welcomes students from all majors.
“I competed in this contest as a graduate student, so I definitely understand the amount of work that goes into it,” Anderson said. “It takes hours and hours of work to prepare, both independently and as a team. It can be really rewarding, though, if you put in the work.”