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When cows compete, people win.

Katharine F. Knowlton, Ph.D.

February 17, 2018
An interactive session led by Katharine F. Knowlton, Ph.D.

Dr. Katharine Knowlton is a Virginia Tech professor who grew up on a dairy farm in Connecticut. After earning degrees at Cornell University, Michigan State and the University of Maryland she came to work at Virginia Tech. She is now the Colonel Horace Alphin Professor of Dairy Science at Virginia Tech. She does research on environmental issues associated with the dairy industry, is the head of the Dairy Science undergraduate program, and teaches five courses in the department. Dr. Knowlton’s favorite thing to do in all the world is to judge cows. That is, she tells farmers which of their cows is the prettiest, and why. She judges cow shows around the world and coaches the Virginia Tech team that has won the national dairy judging championship 4 times in the last ten years!

Dairy cows are incredible. They love foods that we hate, and they make foods that we love. A cow’s job is to take grass and the leftovers from food and fuel production and give us milk, butter, cheese and ice cream. But did you know that what a cow looks like affects how well she does this job? Just as there are dog shows to identify the best dogs and horse shows to identify the best horses, farmers around the world bring their cows to shows to compete and identify cows that are better at their job than anyone else. Scientists go even further, collecting millions of pieces of data every day from dairy farms and using that data to help identify those best cows. So what do the best cows look like? How do scientists quantify this and use that data to help farmers have more of those cows? And what does all this mean for the planet and the 7.5 billion people inhabiting it?