Fall 2017

The cow whisperer

Savanna Christensen surveying “the girls”
Photography by Steve Niedorf

Savanna Christensen, ’17, is a 21st century cowgirl, herding cattle from the milking parlor to the pasture from the driver’s seat of a green-and-black Gator. Moving cattle is part of the University of Minnesota Morris biology major’s work as a dairy intern at the West Central Research and Outreach Center (WCROC). And watching her in action, it becomes clear that she has a special connection with the herd. “Milking cows are very smart,” she says. “They have great personalities.”

Christensen has been involved in several projects to improve herd health at WCROC: teaching calves to use an automated feeding system, sampling grass from area organic farms to track the amount of dry matter cows eat, and assisting with hygiene studies.

Having grown up on a turkey farm near Sleepy Eye, Minnesota, Christensen hadn’t worked with cattle until two years ago, when she got a job as a milker at WCROC. She also took part in dairy research through the Bridgford Summer Scholars program, funded by a gift from Betty Bridgford Orvis and Robert E. Orvis Sr. 

Christensen says taking part in the research has shaped her plans. “I didn’t know I wanted to be a large-animal vet until I worked with the cattle and found I really enjoyed it,” she says. “And it all started with the Summer Scholars program.”