As a Harvard undergrad studying psychology, Jennifer Van Os never pictured herself working in a Wisconsin dairy barn.
“A decade ago, I hadn’t even heard of animal welfare science. I started working with cows and I realized how fascinating they really are. They’re very inquisitive. They’re fun to work with. And I love working with them,” says Van Os.
On the farm, she’s earned a reputation for making complex ideas simple. An example is her explanation of what animal welfare means: “So if you break down the word welfare we’re really asking how well is she faring.”
As a huge lover of cheese and other dairy products, Van Os sees her work as a way of expressing gratitude. “I really want to thank the cows that produce dairy products and make sure their lives are as good as possible,” she says. “I’m really thankful for what they do to enrich our lives.”
Enriching cow lives means doing things like studying barn airflow to ensure that the temperature-sensitive animals are comfortable. And sharing data with producers.
“She’s one of the best hires in the last twenty years at UW-Madison,” opines Lloyd Holterman of Rosy-Lane Holsteins in Watertown where Van Os has done much of her research.
For Van Os, that connection with producers who make use of her research is what makes the work valuable. “I find that really rewarding to know that our research really is going to be applied in the industry to help these animals. And what I really found reflected in working with our local industry is the embodiment of the Wisconsin Idea,” she says.