Student Experience

Working on projects with research leaders, students can prepare for a successful career in a complex, fast-paced sector – a sector searching for answers to new environmental challenges, and pathways to new opportunities.

Projects are led by visionary researchers who are nationally and internationally recognized for their pioneering work. Under their supervision, students are exposed to novel ways of tackling modern agriculture's big new questions. Answers are uncovered using innovative approaches and data sources developed by NCLE over the past two decades, both in the lab and on the landscape.

NCLE emphasizes cutting-edge research with practical applications on the farm. Experts from multiple disciplines work as teams, helping each other understand both the big picture and the fine details. Students gain plenty of hands-on experience in the lab and the field, in many instances working in real farm settings and collaborating with crop and livestock producers.

How alumni remember the NCLE experience

  • Alumni Harun Cicek

    Harun Cicek

    "Now that I’m involved with projects in other parts of the world, I realize all the relevant things we did. The work was visionary and what institutions are interested in. What I learned always puts me ahead."

    Then: PhD studies (2014)

    Now: Senior Scientist at the Research Institute of Organic Agriculture (FiBL) in Switzerland, working on crop-livestock integration projects in Africa, Asia and Europe 

  • Alumni Kristine Tapley

    Kristine Tapley

    "Being part of the NCLE group really helped me understand the holistic view. It isn't solely about understanding the science behind greenhouse gas emissions. It’s also about understanding what’s involved in the conversation and having connections to those involved in it."

    Then: MSc student (2015)

    Now: Regional Agrologist – Beef Industry at Ducks Unlimited Canada

  • Alumni Janghan Choi
    Photo by Janghan Choi

    Janghan Choi

    "As an MSc student, I learned new techniques in animal science research, including new laboratory protocols and how to manage different analyzing machines. I hope to become a professor one day, and to use this knowledge to set up my own lab."

    Then: MSc student (2018)

    Now: PhD in Poultry Science candidate at University of Georgia

Grad students making a difference

  • Fine-tuning feed strategies for more resilient piglets

    Through his PhD research project, Bonjin Koo is exploring the best ways to use amino acid supplements to stimulate piglets' immune systems. His goal is to help pork producers become more globally competitive as they become less reliant on in-feed antibiotics.

  • Bonjin Koo

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Researcher Bonjin Koo - Fine-tuning feeding for more resilient piglets

Canada's pork industry is moving away from in-feed antibiotics, and that means producers need new strategies to support gut health and immune responses. Nowhere is the need more urgent than in the nursery, where a piglet's nutrition can have a big impact on its health and future productivity.

Swine nutritionists know part of the answer is a diet with an appropriate profile of amino acids . But what’s the best "recipe" for adding amino acid supplements to piglet diets? Which amino acids work best? And what's the optimum amount of supplement to add?

Bonjin Koo is intent on answering these questions as he carries out his PhD research project at the University of Manitoba. His study is revealing which amino acids work best in young pigs, and how much supplementation achieves the best health outcomes and return on investment.

His ultimate goal is to develop novel nutritional strategies that will help Canadian pork producers become more globally competitive as they become less reliant on in-feed antibiotics. It’s important and timely work for the pork industry, and it fits in well with his personal goal of doing research that truly matters to farmers.

"When I designed the project, the most important value from the beginning was that I do research that contributes to the improvement and development of the ag industry," he explains. "That is why we study – not just to get published but to create data that is relevant to practical situations. I want to focus on research that industry has asked of academia."

That attitude is nurtured by Koo's mentor, Martin Nyachoti, head of the Animal Science Department at the University of Manitoba and an important partner in NCLE research programs. Nyachoti has won many international research awards and earns more than 1,000 citations a year.

In fact, Nyachoti was a big factor in Koo's decision to pursue his PhD at the University of Manitoba. Koo's undergraduate advisor in Korea had worked with Nyachoti, and gave him a glowing recommendation. "When I did further research, I found he was a leading researcher in the world."

With Nyachoti's support, Koo has been able to design and lead the project himself. In the process, he was able to transform leading-edge research into practical, science-based methods that can be applied on the farm.

"If you just work for a professor, it's boring! Coming up with good ideas, troubleshooting on your own, convincing your professor – that's the fun part. Lead your project, even if it's difficult. If you're successful, you become more confident."

He's also enjoying the hands-on, learning-by-doing approach, working both with the animals and in the lab, and collaborating with students from multiple disciplines. It’s helping him to become familiar with both the academic side of science and the realities of the pork industry in Canada.

After graduation, Koo plans to continue bridging the gap between academia and industry by returning to his family’s farm in South Korea. There he will apply his new scientific knowledge as he participates in farm management.

Just like in Canada, there's a need to help academia understand the industry, and to help farmers understand and apply research findings that will have positive outcomes.

"I want to improve that situation by working on the farm," says Koo. "And later, I'd like to do some practical research at the farm level, too."

  • Mining for treasure in the manure pile

    NSERC scholarship winner Hannah Keenes puts high value on the field experience she gains while researching the links between manure, GHG emissions and cattle management decisions. She's helping to address one of the hottest topics in the industry, and for this master's student, it's been a lot of good, not-so-clean fun.

  • Hannah Keenes

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Researcher Hannah Keenes working in the field

What secrets lie waiting to be discovered in a pile of manure?

If you're Hannah Keenes, the booty could be vital insights into greenhouse gas emissions and the ways producers can limit them... plus knowing you're helping to address one of the hottest topics in the industry.

As a student pursuing her Master's in animal science, Keenes is part of a research project that connects the dots between animal management decisions and the byproducts cows and calves leave behind. Keenes is co-supervised by two leading researchers involved with the National Centre for Livestock and the Environment: NCLE Director Kim Ominski from the Animal Science Department, and Soil Science professor Mario Tenuta, the NSERC Industrial Research Chair in 4R Nutrient Management.

Together, the interdisciplinary team is determining how the nutrient and GHG composition of manure is affected by how animals are fed and housed, as well as by how the manure is handled, stored and applied in the field. The end goal is to develop best management practices that producers can use.

"A lot of it was dirty work, but I had a great time!" Keenes says. "I loved getting out to the farms and working with technicians on the road. When you see the diversity of locations and resources farmers are working with, it really gives you a sense of how different management decisions are made."

Keenes is also stoked by the opportunity to be working on one of the biggest sustainability issues faced by cattle producers.

"I wanted to be part of that knowledge-building, particularly because of all the misinformation we see out there," she said. "There's a big need to disseminate science-based, factual information about the sustainability of our industry."

Keenes has spent long hours digging around manure to collect samples for the project, but she's also had plenty of opportunity to experience the less-messy, more-high-tech aspects of research.

For example, she's collecting GHG emission data using cutting-edge technology that uses infrared light to detect distinct molecular "fingerprints" of different gases. The technology can identify and quantify multiple gases at once, providing an efficient way to track GHG emission patterns over time. Course-wise, she's been able to try her hand at some ag systems modelling work, creating simulations from the data she's collected.

Her favourite part of the project is working directly with producers, speaking with them one on one and understanding their passion for the work they do. As someone who didn't grow up on a farm, Keenes had been itching to get that kind of field experience.

So how does a lifelong city dweller end up mucking around in manure?

Like many agriculture students, Keenes was drawn to the work by her love of animals. Growing up in Winnipeg, she was immersed in the world of conformation dog shows.

She originally aspired to a career in veterinary medicine when she joined the Animal Science Department. But once in the program, her eyes were opened to a wider range of possibilities.

"I learned so much about the food system – the kind of stuff you don't learn growing up in the city."

After graduation, she hopes to continue being involved in practical work in agricultural research or policy, or to work as a lab technician.

Meanwhile, she's excelling in her studies. While an undergraduate student, Keenes won numerous awards including the University Gold Medal in Agricultural and Food Sciences for highest standing in the undergraduate degree program, as well as the Lieutenant Governor's Gold Medal, given on the basis of scholarship, personal excellence and leadership.

Now, as a Master's student, she’s been awarded a Canada Graduate Scholarship (CGS-M) through the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC). The prestigious NSERC award was received by 20 University of Manitoba first-year Master's students in 2021, and the Animal Science Department is thrilled that Keenes is among them!

Manure Greenhouse Gas Chamber
Manure Greenhouse Gas Chamber
  • It's a grain, a grass and a new way of thinking about agroecosystems

    Perennial grain research is providing a glimpse of how livestock, grain production and wildlife can co-exist in one sustainable, soil-building ecosystem. Master's student Patrick Le Heiget is studying how a novel dual-purpose crop can be used for grazing cattle AND producing grain for human consumption, all in the same year.

  • Patrick LeHeight

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Patrick Le Heiget on machinery

It was while walking through a research plot, doing routine field checks, that Patrick Le Heiget caught a vivid, real-life glimpse of what the future of agriculture could be.

His plot was growing a novel type of grain that renews itself every spring, with no need for yearly seeding. Later in the season, this same field would do double-duty as a pasture, where cattle would be free to munch on the nutritious regrowth left behind after the grain was harvested for humans to eat.

As Le Heiget strolled through the field that day, a grouse suddenly took flight, revealing a nest of 18 eggs. Weeks later, those eggs would hatch into fuzzy grouse chicks amid the shelter of his growing crop.

"I was amazed at the biodiversity I was seeing," Le Heiget recalls. "To think that in this one field, you can have a crop to harvest, cattle grazing and diverse fauna, all interacting together. It’s so promising for the future!"

The field nurturing such a rich and complex ecosystem is part of a perennial grains research study conducted through the National Centre for Livestock and the Environment (NCLE). Led by plant scientist Doug Cattani and animal scientist Emma McGeough, the project provides a glimpse of how dual-purpose perennial grains can encourage more positive interactions between plants, animals, soils and wildlife. Le Heiget is working with the research team as he pursues his Master's degree in plant science under Cattani’s supervision.   

The project is building on Cattani's work as head of the only perennial grains breeding program in the Prairies. He’s helped develop intermediate wheatgrass, originally grown as a forage crop, into a specialty grain crop that can be harvested once a year for human consumption – just like annual wheat, oats, barley and rye crops. In this way, these new perennial grains serve two purposes: they can produce marketable grain, and after harvest, cattle can graze the regrowth right into the winter.

"The idea is to give producers a way to grow grain and gain additional grazing acres in the fall," Le Heiget explains. "This system gives livestock producers more versatility to harvest grains and graze cattle on the same land, maximizing the economic value."

Because the plants grow in the field for several years, these novel grains offer many agronomic benefits, including continuous ground cover and an additional way to keep weeds and erosion at bay. They also improve soil health and drought resistance by sending complex root systems deep into the soil. As fields are left undisturbed without the need for tillage each year, wildlife gain more habitat where they can thrive.

Le Heiget's project is focused on the phenology of the plants – in other words, how development is affected by variations in weather, fertility timing and application rate, inclusion of legumes and other factors. The goal is to enrich the sector's knowledge of how farmers can get the best economic and ecological returns from perennial grains.

For someone like Le Heiget, with a passion for many aspects of agriculture, it’s an ideal way to work toward a Master's degree.

Originally, his goal was to be a veterinarian – an interest he developed while growing up on a farm near St. Claude, Manitoba. His family had a pregnant mare urine (PMU) business that later became a cow-calf operation.

Once his university studies began, Le Heiget was introduced to agronomic systems and found he was interested in the many other areas of agriculture. Agronomy was his major, but throughout his undergraduate degree, he took courses dealing with interactions between plants, soil, water, animals and the atmosphere. He decided to earn his undergraduate degree and then his Master's in Plant Science.

His choice opened the door to multi-faceted research like his current perennial grains project. He welcomes the opportunity to work with different disciplines as they develop more holistic farm systems, and he’s also enjoying the ability to extend his network and meet like-minded people within the university and beyond. Among those opportunities is a Mitacs internship with Manitoba Beef Producers.

After graduation, Le Heiget is hoping to work within the industry – possibly in a research position overlapping with his wide interests.

He knows perennial grains research will play an important role in hatching those future opportunities – just as it did for the grouse chicks nesting in his research plot.