Any farmer’s son or daughter seeking the inspiration to use an agriculture-related degree to set them on the road to a fulfilling career within the industry can take a lot from the example of Will Betts.
Brought up on his father’s 60ha (150-acre) dairy farm in Leicestershire, Will always aimed to get the highest academic qualification he could achieve when he went to study at Harper Adams University College. Now about to complete his studies, he has gone one further than that and is about to receive a prestigious agricultural science scholarship.
His success in the European section of the Alltech Young Animal Scientist Award has seen him selected to be one of five finalists drawn from 160 entrants worldwide.
He will present his paper at the company’s international feed industry symposium in Kentucky, USA, later this month in the hope of receiving the overall award. Whether or not he receives the ultimate accolade and the $5000 first prize, the experience and recognition is a valuable step forward for a young man who has all his options open as he plans his career.
As a final year Agriculture with Animal Science degree student, Will is required to complete an honours research project, and it is the report from this study that has formed the basis of his Young Animal Scientist Award entry.
Working under the supervision of Dr Liam Sinclair and researcher Carolyn Atkin, the latter studying the effects of organically chelated minerals on the performance, digestion and health of dairy cows for her PhD, he chose to focus specifically on cow mobility.
“This area of interest really developed during my sandwich year, which I spent working on a 400-cow unit in Cheshire,” he adds. “There were lameness issues that we were dealing with on the farm, and minerals were implicated, so I was stimulated to follow this up through the research project as a result.
“Although I’ve grown up on a dairy farm, my interest in dairying has grown significantly during my time at Harper Adams, and that in itself is a very positive thing. I now have a much broader view and have seen that there is a lot more to dairy farming than I could ever have realised had my only experience been at home.
“At one time I had ambitions of becoming a vet, but now I can see all kinds of other opportunities to develop a career in agriculture, particularly at a practical level.”
Working with Carolyn Atkin, whose work is jointly funded by Alltech and DEFRA under a Knowledge Transfer Partnership, Will has been studying the effects of zinc supplements on the mobility of dairy cows, and specifically comparing organic and inorganic presentations of the mineral.
This has included experimental design and statistical analysis and, perhaps most importantly, a lot of hands-on monitoring and assessment. It has also involved looking at the full spectrum of data on nutritional input and production output.
“It is a real advantage to all the students to have a substantial herd of cows on the campus, and particularly so from a research perspective,” adds Will. “We were able to work with a group of 50 cows, which is about a quarter of the total milking herd.”
As for Will Betts, a five-day experience in Lexington, Kentucky, will be his reward later this month for his outstanding academic achievements. This will certainly begin to fulfil one of his stated ambitions – to travel – and will definitely broaden his horizons still further and provide valuable direction and impetus as he embarks on a career in agriculture.