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Extension dairy specialist contributes decades of consulting, research

Karena Elliott for Progressive Dairyman Published on 16 November 2016
Ellen Jordan

Dr. Ellen Jordan grew up working with Holstein heifers, beef cattle, poultry and horses, as well as showing Guernsey dairy cattle and purebred swine. But it still took two years of convincing before her high school would allow her to take FFA classes.

“Starting in high school, I was frequently the first female to do something, and that continued when I started my academic career,” she notes. “It taught me there would always be those that were skeptical, but what you do overcomes their negativism.” Today, her successful career in the dairy industry speaks volumes.

Although her first choice was vet school as an animal sciences major at Iowa State University, working for Dr. Allen Trenkle changed her career aspirations to nutritional reproductive physiology. “Dr. Trenkel encouraged me to change from beef to dairy cattle, as the challenges ‘would be greater,’” Jordan recalls. It’s a decision she’s never regretted.

Oregon State University (OSU) welcomed her combined interests of nutrition and reproduction. She completed her master’s in 1978 and her doctorate in 1981 working with Dr. Lloyd Swanson as her major advisor.

“Dr. Hokie Adams was the extension dairy specialist at OSU, and as I observed him helping producers, I thought it was an intriguing way to stay closer to the farm instead of being strictly in research and teaching,” she describes.

Upon graduation, Jordan became the first female dairy specialist in the U.S. when she began working for West Virginia University (WVU). The majority of her appointment was extension, but she also fulfilled teaching and research duties. “When I started, I did lots of farm visits, managed the DHI program, coached the 4-H judging team and then taught equine science,” she says. “There were very few consultants serving the industry at the time, so we helped producers with ration formulation on a regular basis.”

During the 10 years Jordan served as associate professor at WVU, she was also very involved with Sire Power (now Select Sires) and handled the majority of the economics questions while concurrently managing the state dairy show.

In 1991, Jordan became a professor and extension specialist for the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service. “I was able to specialize more in reproduction as there were other specialists in nutrition on board,” she explains. As more nutritionists became available to more producers, Jordan saw the role of extension evolve into training the consultants.

“Producers also expected us to do more research targeted at Texas issues,” she says. “One of the big issues in Texas was reproduction in the summer time.” Jordan began presenting heat stress abatement technique demonstrations, as well as incorporating Ovsynch protocol variations into Texas reproduction programs.

“In conjunction with Dr. Bill Thatcher from Florida, we developed the HeatSynch protocol, which started to take the industry by storm until the company removed ECP (estradiol cypionate) from the market,” Jordan says. “Looking back, it is evident that this was a precursor of how consumer demands and perceptions are changing the way we dairy in this country.”

“In less than two years, over 40,000 cows were being bred using HeatSynch in Texas, and today variations of those synchronization programs continue in most herds,” she says.

In 2016, Jordan finds Texas dairy extension work dominated by environmental management and compliance issues, water quality and availability concerns, and animal care strategies.

“Our role in extension has changed to researching in these evolving needs areas with applied projects, frequently conducted with producer cooperators instead of on university farms,” she says.

“I get bored doing the same thing day after day, so the tremendous diversity of duties keeps me engaged,” she says. “Every day has a new opportunity, and you never know what tomorrow will bring.”

Jordan has also witnessed technology’s changing role in the industry firsthand. “Communication was traditionally through fact sheets and newsletters mailed to producers or in small local meetings,” she says. “Today, we may still have fact sheets, but they’re posted online.” Her interactions with both dairy farmers and consultants are more frequently via detailed texts, voice messages and emails.

“Sorting fact from fiction in social media is one reason producers still look to extension for unbiased, researched information,” she says.

Jordan has also played numerous leadership roles throughout the industry, establishing the Texas Animal Nutritional Council and the Dairy Cattle Reproduction Council.

“These organizations have organized our consultants for educational opportunities,” she describes. She was elected to leadership roles in the American Dairy Science Association (ADSA) as director and treasurer, and the American Registry of Professional Animal Scientists as secretary and president of the American College of Animal Nutrition Board.

Fifteen refereed journal articles list her as an author, as well as over 300 popular press articles and more than 1,600 radio programs. Jordan has also edited the proceedings for over 30 technical conferences in reproduction, nutrition and environmental management.

Her professional work has been honored by ADSA when they named her a Fellow in 2014. The World Ag Expo selected her as the Outstanding Dairy Industry Education/Researcher of the Year in 2010. And she received the DeLaval Dairy Extension Award from ADSA in 2007.

Jordan’s advice for young dairy professionals reflects her devotion to extension. “Learn all you can, not only in the classroom, but by visiting every dairy you can,” she says.

Today, as an extension dairy specialist, Jordan oversees all aspects of dairy management educational programs for producers in Texas. She lives in Dallas and works with issues including nutrition, cow comfort, herd health and reproduction. “I still love what I do,” Jordan says. “I get a great deal of satisfaction from helping people succeed and work through problems.”  end mark

Karena Elliott is an international freelance writer who makes her home in Amarillo, Texas.

PHOTO: Dr. Ellen Jordan oversees all aspects of dairy management educational programs for producers in Texas, including nutrition, cow comfort, herd health and reproduction. Photo provided by Ellen Jordan.

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