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Seeing the dairy industry for the first time

Amanda Meneses Published on 20 November 2013

“You never truly appreciate things until they are gone.”

Leslie Hammond, a recent University of Kentucky graduate, can now fully appreciate her eyesight after a severe decline to her vision.

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Hammond first began detecting her diminishing eyesight her senior year of high school. In the fall, she entered her freshman year as an engineering major at the University of Kentucky. By this time, it became necessary for Hammond to begin learning to read Braille.

“I went from being a 4.0 student to failing all of my classes,” Hammond says.

An academic adviser recommended Hammond take some time off and withdraw herself from the university so that her failing grades wouldn’t count against her overall record.

After countless doctor visits and specialists, she visited one more doctor before she began her next semester. The retinal specialist resolved that Hammond did not have glaucoma, as she had been previously diagnosed.

He just detected abnormalities with her eyes that were severely affecting her vision. The specialist ordered Hammond to stop taking the previously prescribed medication for the condition she did not have. Gradually, Hammond regained her eyesight.

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Upon her return, Hammond sat down once more with her academic adviser, who suggested she take more enjoyable courses rather than rigorous engineering classes to make the transition a bit easier. One of the courses Hammond ended up taking was a class in sustainable agriculture.

Dr. Joseph Taraba, a visiting lecturer in one of her sustainable agriculture courses, remembers Hammond having an enthusiasm about the topic.

“She had an interest in the compost barn because she had a broader interest in the environmental issues affecting dairy farming, particularly the component of animal welfare and milk quality,” Taraba says. “She was enthusiastic and understanding in an area that I needed someone in.”

Hammond switched her major to sustainable agriculture, and after graduating with her bachelor’s degree, continued her graduate degree in soil science.

Throughout her graduate program, Hammond was also hired as a lab technician with the University of Kentucky Department of Biosystems and Agricultural Engineering.

Currently, Hammond is researching a compost-bedded dairy barn. She looks at the compost material in the barn and tries to determine the nutrient availability. She also observes how that value varies throughout the barn and how it varies in depth.

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Hammond is studying lab methods to determine mineralizable nitrogen and phosphorous in the material. After completing preliminary research, Hammond has been formulating best management practices for producers to maximize the compost barn system in order to produce a more consistent product.

The creation of such practices will aid producers, regulatory agencies and the dairy industry in managing the system.

“A well-managed system contributes to the sustainability of dairies by easing manure handling, diversifying outputs and provision of a supplemental fertilizer for feed production,” Hammond says.

“Sometimes Leslie gets too enthusiastic and I have to rein her in a little bit,” Taraba chuckles. “But it’s the kind of enthusiasm you like to work with.”

Some may believe that it was fate Hammond temporarily lost her eyesight so that she could find her true calling upon her return to the university.

But Hammond is just grateful to have regained her eyesight. It’s just an added bonus she found herself in an industry she loves.

“I have simply fallen in love with the dairy industry,” she says. “That love has gone beyond the simple enjoyment of a bowl (sometimes a pint) of ice cream.

It has grown into a love for producers and their animals. I am hoping that my research efforts will help to maintain and grow this precious industry.” PD

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Amanda Meneses
2013 Editorial Intern
Progressive Dairyman

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