Meet South Dakota State University's Talia Everding, an up and coming voice of the pork industry who's passionate about swine welfare and discovering ways to improve sow housing systems for our industry.
Hometown: Lincoln, Nebraska
Education: BS in animal science, University of Nebraska-Lincoln; currently pursuing master’s degree at South Dakota State University
Q. What is your background in the swine industry?
A. I began working with swine during a five-week project at UNL as a freshman. The undergrads assisted in the farrowing and piglet care of about six to eight sows. I had never considered or been exposed to the diversity of the swine industry, and that course gave me the skills and confidence to look outside my area of interest for future work.
Q. Tell us about your internship experiences.
A. I didn't participate in any formal internships, although my undergrad research work with UNL's swine nutrition group extended through the summers, generally a few hours per month. I also worked for a professor emeritus in biology, editing and doing research for book projects for three years. All of those experiences have been invaluable in broadening my horizons, making me a better learner and emphasizing the importance of loving what you do.
Q. Did you take part in undergraduate research?
A. I participated in UNL’s program, Undergraduate Creative Activities and Research Experience (UCARE), that provides students the opportunity to apply for scholarships to work with researchers. I worked with the swine nutrition group through UCARE and then as a student worker from my sophomore through senior year. I helped with daily chores, mixing experimental diets, collecting biological samples, cleaning and disinfecting, and performing lab work.
I also took field parasitology at UNL’s Cedar Point Biological Station, where we spent three weeks collecting, identifying, preserving and studying the parasites of the wildlife around the county. That led to my senior year studying a species of coccidia that infected the ornate box turtles of that area.
Q. What other learning opportunities have you been involved in?
A. Before starting my master’s with Dr. Crystal Levesque at SDSU, I worked for a year as her lab technician. That involved not only the lab work, but also barn and trial work, like moving pigs, cleaning barns, weighing pigs, and collecting samples. That experience gave me a greater appreciation for what goes into raising healthy pigs and some of the logistics of operating a research barn. I also learned how to cooperate in a team, developed into a better leader and communicator, and grew my patience and perseverance.
Q. Tell us about your current research.
A. I’m studying the stress hormone cortisol, specifically its deposition in the hairs of gestating sows, and whether there is a difference between sows in pen gestation versus stall gestation. Cortisol can be collected at a single point in time from blood, saliva or manure, but only gives a picture of potential "stress" at that time. However, cortisol accumulation in hair allows us to assess stress over the course of gestation, providing a clearer picture of potential chronic stress. Consumers have been pushing to phase out gestation stalls because of welfare implications, but the research remains conflicted as to what housing system causes the least stress on the animal. We expect that this work will help to develop sow housing systems beneficial to the sows and the workers who care for them.