Showcasing the science in “animal science”

Take a deeper look at the science involved in animal production.

Youth practice science by observing animals and studying their anatomy and physiology.
Youth practice science by observing animals and studying their anatomy and physiology.

If you ask a youth if they learned science through raising an animal, often their response would be no. Science is sometimes hard for youth to describe; however, youth are using science in almost all aspects of raising animals. Anatomy, physiology, biochemistry, chemistry, ethology (study of behavior), virology (study of viruses), bacteriology (study of bacteria), endocrinology (study of hormones) and more science plays a large role in animal production.

To make defining science easier, the National Research Council released a report, “A Framework for K-12 Science Education.” Using this report, Michigan State University Extension and Michigan 4-H are working to increase science literacy through the inclusion of the Scientific and Engineering Practices described in the framework. These eight practices help guide youth through thinking about science while making the subject a little less intimidating. There are numerous MSU Extension news articles to help youth succeed in science and see it more in their everyday lives.

When diving more closely into the science that makes up many 4-H animal projects, it can be broken down into five major areas: anatomy and physiology; biochemistry and chemistry; virology and bacteriology; ethology; and endocrinology.

  1. Anatomy and physiology. 4-H members observe their animals daily to ensure their health and well-being. Through this, youth are making sure their animals are moving correctly, eating and drinking in similar amounts to previous days, acting in the same manner, as well as observing the animals’ body, eyes, ears, nose, skin and hair. Additionally, youth practice the skill of analyzing anatomy and physiology of their animal when picking out their animal and through animal evaluation (judging contest). When youth compete in 4-H animal evaluation, they are able to explore animal science by learning to evaluate animal project animals such as beef cattle, sheep, swine, dairy and horses. Participants learn to select animals based on breed character, production factors, structure and carcass desirability (livestock only), as well as increase their public speaking skills by preparing and delivering a logical and coherent set of oral reasons to the contest judge. Through daily observation and animal evaluation, youth critically evaluate the anatomy and physiology of their animals.
  2. Biochemistry and chemistry. Biochemistry and chemistry are involved in many aspects of animal production. Balancing an animal feed ration and ensuring all essential ingredients are included for a nutritious animal feed diet is fundamental to science. Additionally, youth can take the science one step further looking at how feed is converted into the differing animal products.
  3. Virology and bacteriology. The study of viruses and bacteria is something important for animal and human health. With many concerns about zoonotic diseases, or diseases animals and humans can share, youth need to take additional steps to keep themselves and their animals healthy. Resources exist to help improve youth awareness and understanding related to the possibilities of zoonotic disease transmission and motivating them to take precautions is an important life skill in personal safety and disease prevention. The potential health dangers individuals’ face on a day-to-day basis while working with animals are often unnoticed, making the educational effort for zoonotic diseases extremely important.
  4. Ethology. Youth observe animal behavior on a daily basis practicing ethology. While most youth would not mention ethology as such, they are observing animal behavior when an animal comes up to a feed bunk or timidly stays back away from an area occupied by a person. Animal behavior can be tied very closely to practicing good animal husbandry, which is essential in any animal project.
  5. Endocrinology. The final science is the study of hormones. Youth who choose to own breeding stock practice this science while determining matings and when a mating can take place. While animal species vary with their reproductive schedules, youth are able to predict when an animal will be coming into estrus (heat) and then breed the animal if desired. Those youth that choose to own breeding stock make many scientific decisions and also utilize technologies to aid in this science.

To help youth learn more about animal science, consider using the MSU Extension 4-H Animal Science Anywhere lessons, 4-H Science Blast activities or Animal Care and Well-Being resources. There are also several volunteer trainings offered in Michigan throughout the year, as well as more resources on the Michigan 4-H Resources page. Moreover, there are numerous curriculum resources available for purchase from the National 4-H Mall.

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