Katie Osborne of Millerstown, Pa. may only be 19, but she’s already making an impact on the dairy industry. Now a freshman at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, N.C., the Greenwood High School FFA member grew up on a small dairy farm where she helped her mom, Irene, manage their herd of cattle while her dad, Jim, worked as a large animal veterinarian.
Between milking cows and bottle-feeding newborn calves on the farm, Katie played and lettered in varsity softball and field hockey, which earned her a full scholarship to Wake Forest University.
“I started playing hockey in second grade and became a goal keeper in fifth grade,” she says. “That’s when I realized I was pretty good at the sport. My senior year, I was recruited to come play at Wake Forest.”
But off the softball and hockey fields, Katie turned heads for a different reason – her intensive research into preventing mastitis in dairy cattle.
“Mastitis is inflammation of a cow’s mammary gland and udder tissue, and it happens when bacteria enter a cow’s udders,” Katie says. “It’s a big problem for dairy farmers, because it causes the milk to not be fit for human consumption. They have to throw it away, which means they lose a lot of money. They also have to pay for medicines and veterinary care.”
Katie began her research in ninth grade when she took an agriscience class that required her to create a research project to present at the Pennsylvania Farm Show. She had to organize all data collected and put it on a display board to present to judges.
“I chose mastitis in dairy cattle because my cow named Summer had mastitis, and my mom was going to sell her if I didn’t help solve the problem,” Katie says. “When I was 6 she was my grandpa’s cow, and I convinced him to give her to me. She was a red-and-white Holstein and my first 4-H animal.”
Katie continued her mastitis research through her senior year and ended up getting to keep Summer until she died in February 2014.
“My initial goal was to keep Summer on our farm, but later I realized I could help my dad help his clients whose cows had mastitis,” Katie says. “In some cases, I was able to help them greatly on their farms.”
One of the things Katie learned was that mastitis can be transmitted through bedding material, of which several types exist for dairy cattle including straw, sawdust, newspaper and sand.
“I found that sand was best for controlling bacteria because it doesn’t support bacteria growth like straw or newspaper,” she says. “I discovered that one of my dad’s client’s problems was the bedding they were using after I found the bacteria in their bedding correlated with bacteria found in the cow’s milk.”
Part of Katie’s research also included finding what sanitizing solution kills the contagious form of mastitis-causing bacteria. She displayed her research findings at her school’s science fair and went on to present nationally at the American Junior Academy of Sciences in Boston.
“A lot of people didn’t expect to see a dairy farmer there,” Katie says with a laugh. “I was able to share the problem of mastitis with those outside the dairy industry, and I ended up getting nicknamed ‘Ag’ because I talked about agriculture so much.”
Katie was named the national winner of the Agriscience Research – Animal Systems Proficiency award program at the 86th National FFA Convention & Expo in Louisville, Ky., in 2013. Greenwood High School agricultural education teacher and FFA advisor Krista Pontius says Katie is one of the ag students who “gets it.”
“She understands the agriculture industry and the importance of sharing the positive message of agriculture to the public,” Pontius says. “I have known Katie since she was born, and I’ve been working with her as FFA advisor for seven years. Katie has always loved dairy farming. We knew she would find a way to leave a positive impact on the industry that has given her so many opportunities.”
Katie is majoring in biology (with minors in chemistry and Spanish) at Wake Forest and plans to pursue a career as a research veterinarian.
“My dad helped me discover the career I’m pursuing. Before, I didn’t even realize research veterinarians existed,” Katie says. “A research veterinarian differs from a veterinarian because it is more about research than interacting directly with the animals. I will go to farms to collect samples to take back to the lab for testing so I can help improve an animal’s health.”
With all that time spent in the lab, it’s no wonder Katie likes to take to the hockey field every chance she gets.
“I love the competitiveness of the sport,” she says. “It’s one way I clear my head.”
Pontius has no doubt Katie will continue to make positive contributions to agriculture.
“After she began her agriscience research projects, it became quite clear that she had found her passion,” Pontius says. “Katie will be able to couple her love of science and dairy cows and make a difference in the dairy industry.”
– Jessica Mozo