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Debbie Cherney

Debbie Cherney


329 Morrison Hall
(607) 255-2882

One goal is to provide solutions to applied problems in the area of forage utilization. Ideally these topics are current, fundable, and publishable. An example of this is in whole farm nutrient management. A primary emphasis for an extended period of time will be needed in this area, particularly dealing with perennial grasses. This is an area for which we have been able to secure funding, results are publishable and have been published, and, most importantly, results are being incorporated into producer recommendations. Another long-term goal has been to clarify and refine standard methods used to determine forage quality. The use of modeling to predict animal performance will continue to increase. Many of these models will rely heavily on chemical characterization, because of the speed, repeatability, and generally low cost of chemical characterization. With the advent of new methodologies and a better understanding of factors limiting animal performance, the chemical characterization of forages will continue to be a worthwhile field of endeavor. A considerable effort is geared toward teaching. The consuming public is interested in animal agriculture, and the issues can go beyond the science. Educating our students about issues that are affecting or will affect animal industry is becoming an increasingly important component of my program. In addition, we need young people to continue to choose agricultural careers, but also to make intelligent choices and policies about issues involving animals as adult consumers. Thus an important goal is educating youth about animal science and its opportunities.

Research Focus

Currently studies continue to focus on identifying appropriate forage management, particularly for perennial grasses, to enable high milk production while at the same time allowing for an environmentally and economically involves evaluating or improving laboratory or in vitro techniques to assess forage quality. Some of the methods we are researching involve the adaption of simple methods that can be used inexpensively to improve forage utilization in underdeveloped countries.

I am a trained animal nutritionist, with that training specifically in forage utilization and quality. This training was with some of the best forage and fiber scientists in the country at the time, Dr. John Moore (known jointly with Dr. G.O. Mott for his elegant evaluation of southern and tropical forages) and Dr. David Mertens (known for his work with the neutral detergent method). I was fortunate to meet with and learn from other major forage researchers at the time, including Dr. Larry Satter and Dr. John Schenk. Couple that with training in rumen microbiology, I came to our lab at Cornell University with a unique set of skills and an ability to evaluate forage issues across a broad spectrum. I also have passage rate and kinetic model experience and considerable experience with statistical modeling experience.
You have to use the right methods to get the right answers, and the method that you use must be one that most other researchers will use, so that your research can be compared to others. This is especially true today when many researchers are using multiple studies for meta-analysis. There are five methods related to fiber or fiber digestion that I developed that are routinely used or will be used routinely.
1) Cherney, D.J.R., J.A. Patterson, and R.P. Lemenager. 1990. Influence of nylon bag rinsing technique on determination of dry matter disappearance. J. Dairy Sci. 73:391-397.
2) Cherney, D.J.R., M.J. Traxler, and J.B. Robertson. 1997. Use of Ankom fiber determination systems to determine digestibility. NIRS Forage and Feed Testing Consortium Annual Conference, Feb. 19-20, 1997, Madison, WI. (Invited).
3) Cherney, D.J., J.H. Cherney, and W.J. Cox. 2004. Fermentation characteristics of corn forage ensiled in mini-silos. J. Dairy Sci. 87:4238-4246.
4) Karayilanlia, Elif, Jerome H. Cherney, Paul Sirois, Diane Kubinec, and Debbie J.R. Cherney. 2016. Prediction of Botanical Composition of Alfalfa-Grass Mixtures using Near Infrared Reflectance Spectroscopy (NIRS): Developing a Robust Calibration. Crop Sci. 56:1-6. doi: 10.2135/cropsci2016.04.032
5) McRoberts, Keenan C., Brent M. Benson, Erika L. Mudrak, David Parsons, and Debbie J.R. Cherney. 2016. Application of local binary patterns in digital images to estimate botanical composition in mixed alfalfa–grass fields, Computers and Electronics in Agriculture, Volume 123, April 2016, Pages 95-103, ISSN 0168-1699,
Methods described in papers 1-3 are all routinely used by forage researchers world-wide and commercially by Dairy One Forage Lab locally. Papers 1 and 2 decrease labor and help reduce standard errors of the systems involved. Paper 2 illustrated that much larger throughput of samples was possible with this system. This is particularly important for agronomic researchers and commercial labs, who routinely have large numbers of samples to process annually. Papers 4&5 are recent publications, so it is difficult to assess impact. Paul Sirois, manager of the Forage Lab at Dairy One told me recently that the odd weather in 2016 has resulted in a number of forage samples with odd results, making it difficult to know which equations to use. Paul told me that he believed that he could use the NIR botanical composition calibration equation to resolve this problem. The use of local binary patterns in digital images also cannot be assessed at this time. This work, however, has already been used to secure Federal funding, and we have been approached by several researchers as to its value for other research areas. Digital analysis is the work that is going to be most able to be used directly by forage producers. This research can have a large influence on knowing when to harvest and thus reducing amounts of off-farm feeds that must be purchased.
Papers noted below are from research that have had a significant impact on the dairy forage industry and indicate how I see myself evolving as a researcher.
1) Cherney, D.J.R. 1995. How much protein do we want in alfalfa forage? Pages 16-23. In Proc. 25th National Alfalfa Symposium, Syracuse, NY. Certified Alfalfa Seed Council, Davis, CA. (Invited).
2) Cherney, D.J., J.H. Cherney, and L.E. Chase. 2004. Lactation performance of Holstein cows fed fescue, orchardgrass or alfalfa silage. J. Dairy Sci. 87:2268-2276.
3) Cherney, D.J.R., J.H. Cherney, and L.E. Chase. 2009. Using forages in dairy cattle rations: are we moving forward? (vol. 71, pp. 217-223). Ithaca/NY/US: Cornell Nutrition Conference.
4) Valentine, M.E., K.C. McRoberts, and D.J. Cherney. 2015. Foraging and body condition characterization of goats in Northwestern India. Indian Journal of Small Ruminants. 21(2):245-252.
5) McRoberts, Keenan C., Quirine M. Ketterings, David Parsons, Tran Thanh Hai, Nguyen Hai Quan, Nguyen Xuan Ba, Charles F. Nicholson, Debbie J. R. Cherney. 2016. Impact of Forage Fertilization with Urea and Composted Cattle Manure on Soil Fertility in Sandy Soils of South-Central Vietnam. International Journal of Agronomy. Volume 2016 (2016), Article ID 4709024, 14 pages.
Researchers in Wisconsin in the early to mid-nineties published data suggesting that dairy cows fed a high alfalfa haylage diet could produce more milk if more protein were added to the diet. Using my knowledge of the alfalfa plant, rumen microbiology, and dairy cow nutrition, I was able to demonstrate that alfalfa was already too high in protein, and that adding more energy to the diet would actually produce more milk (#2). Much more corn silage is grown in Wisconsin and the rest of the mid-west than twenty years ago. Work with the Cornell Net Carbohydrate and Protein system led me to the conclusion that grass would work well in NY dairy cow rations. My work with dairy cows indicated that this worked very well (#2, 3). Other forage dairy researchers and forage companies have recently become interested in grass-alfalfa mixtures. Several have cited my earlier dairy feeding trial as evidence that grass-alfalfa mixtures can be sustainable economically and environmentally.
As papers #4 and #5 in the methods sections suggest, I will continue working on methods that quickly and accurately predict forage quality, so that producers can predictably produce a high quality product that is sustainable. Those two papers, as well as papers #4 and 5 in the above section, demonstrate how I see myself further evolving. I was directly involved in conducting earlier work, while more recent work was done by my graduate students or lab visitors.

Outreach and Extension Focus

My focus is two pronged.
1. Less than 2% of the U.S. population is currently involved in agriculture and many young people have little or no experience with farm animals. We need young people to continue to chose agricultural careers, but also, as adult consumers, to make intelligent choices and policies about issues involving the use of animals for food and fiber.. We have developed a program that begins with a PowerPoint slide show describing what a ruminant animal is, using many images of different animals that the students may have seen on television or in zoos. We describe how a ruminant is able to use grass with the aid of slides and other props. The presentation is geared to the level and experience of the youth group. These groups range in age from 6 to 18 years and from no animal experience to farm youth. Because these audiences learn best from hands-on experiences, they are invited to come down and handle a rumen-fistulated cow, offer her feed, and explore the rumen. The youth are given lab coats and gloves and can place their arm inside the cow. We also have a microscope demonstration, so youth can see some of the rumen microbes, as well as a feed demonstration. In this way, they can see, feel and smell what we have talked about, reinforcing their learning experience. When appropriate, the program also includes discussion of possible careers in animal biology and production. In the last 3 years we have done 47 demonstrations for approximately 1100 young people and their chaperones. The program has Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee Approval. Many of the groups bring new students each year. The cow is a critical component of the success of this program.
2. We are currently stressing the use of quality grass in animal production systems: primarily dairy, but also horses, sheep, and goats.

Teaching Focus

The original basis for the Introduction to Welfare class (ANSC 3100) was that too many of our animal science students, and pre-veterinary students in other departments, did not have a scientific basis for their views regarding animal welfare. This is a course that could be evaluated using traditional testing techniques, if my major objective was the teaching of welfare issues today. Welfare issues of the future, however, may not be those that we face today, what is considered acceptable today may not be considered acceptable tomorrow. Students need to have a science-based knowledge of today’s issues coupled with well-developed critical analysis skills to face tomorrow’s audiences. They also need the skills to recognize emerging welfare issues.
Initially, this class was not large, but ANSC 3100 has 95 students today. My fellow teachers and I decided that lectures, discussions, analysis of WEB sites, group evaluations of the Welfare Evaluation Contest started by Michigan State, and a group project proposal would be a good start. As the course grew and the original seven teachers shrunk to two and now one, it became impossible to teach the course as it was. I have attended work-shops on teaching of large classes and working with case-studies (both here at Cornell University and nationally). I did change my teaching style to incorporate techniques suggested, including case studies. Students evaluated actual farms, an excellent way to learn critical skills.
In a class where learning critical thinking skills is a main objective, students should have some control over their own learning choices. For this class, I have always assigned a text, but it is difficult to find a text that students can relate to. I have been less than satisfied with their writing skills, resulting from assignments using these texts. Having been at several universities and interacting with instructors from other universities, I have long realized how truly fortunate we are to have the quality students that we do. Recently I had decided to have my students write the textbook that they would like to read. At the beginning of Fall 2015, I gave my students the choice of writing the text book, or continuing with the syllabus they had been given. Students almost unanimously chose to write the book, although none fully recognized the effort that would be required. Also, I learned that the students needed more structure in what was required. Divided into groups, each group chose a chapter to write. This writing included outlines, drafts, reviews of other chapters and final chapter. I am very pleased with the product and proud of my students. The students learned a lot about working in groups and getting a job done that they could be proud of, even for groups that were not composed of the best students I thoroughly enjoyed the process, and generating this book recharged the pleasure I receive from teaching.
Ethics in Animal Science (ANSC 4140) was started before ANSC 3100, and is another class where the major objective is to learn critical analysis skills, tolerance for others, and recognition of ethical issues. While some objectives are similar, the courses do have different knowledge objectives and overlap less than five percent. We use case studies, role playing, small group discussions, large group discussion with audience participation, and other pedagogical techniques that emerge as the discipline of teaching progresses. We allow students to voice their own opinions, or they can voice opinions from another perspective. They are allowed to be creative, which generates remarkable results.
Intellectually, I do not believe that courses should be rote. If students are challenged, we all enjoy coming to class. Assignments should engage their minds, such that grades are not a predominant emphasis. Student receive grades primarily based on the effort that they put into the class, not simply based on innate intelligence. Along with the increase in student numbers in this class, the group is becoming increasingly diverse, and this has presented both opportunities and problems.

My aim is for students in my courses to be actively engaged and to develop as independent, responsible learners with the intellectual and social skills required to be productive members of our field and of our society. We accomplish this in a number of ways, from students choosing their own projects in Ethics and Animal Science to being involved in group projects in Animal Nutrition.

Our student body is increasingly diverse and a large percentage of them are from non-agricultural backgrounds. These students may benefit from different pedagogies due to different learning styles. Course curriculum needs to be adapted to the abilities and styles of learning that students come into class with. My philosophy is that teaching is not static. You must continually climb upward or be falling back down. My teaching goal is for students in my courses to be actively engaged and to develop as independent, responsible learners with the intellectual and social skills required to be productive members of society.

Awards and Honors

  • Kendall Carpenter Advising Award (2012) Cornell University
  • Merrill Scholar Outstanding (2012)
  • Merrill Scholar Outstanding Educator (2008) Cornell University
  • Merrill Scholar Outstanding Educator (2007) Cornell University
  • The SUNY Chancellor's Award for Excellence in Teaching (2013) CU Contract Colleges Deans and Directors

Selected Publications

Journal Publications