University’s swine unit helps save people’s lives

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Source; Illinois Farmer Today

Jonathon Mosley is the director of the Animal Sciences Farms and Research Centers at the University of Illinois, where he was also a student. After graduating with his Bachelor of Science degree at the Urbana-Campaign campus, he started working at one of the swine units while earning his master’s degree in animal sciences.

Mosley became a unit manager at the swine farm. After about seven years of managing operations and research at the swine unit, he became the director of Animal Sciences Farms and Research Centers at the university.

Having worked in all the roles of the people who report to him today gives him an understanding of the challenges people in each of these roles face, he said.

IFT: How did you get started on the path to animal science research?

MOSLEY: I grew up in a small town outside of Bloomington, Illinois, called Arrowsmith, where I lived with my parents and two siblings. … My siblings and I raised show pigs and always had a few show steers as well. 4-H taught me a lot about responsibility, leadership and teamwork. I loved working with the animals, especially the pigs. I think that’s what drove me into animal sciences. Like most kids my original intention was to become a veterinarian. Going to the U of I opened my eyes to what other opportunities the field had to offer.

IFT: Tell us about a typical day — if there is such a thing.

MOSLEY: I can honestly say that in my role there are no two days the same and something urgent the day before maybe just a regular task the next day.

In this role, I provide leadership to several of our facility managers including our General Farm Services, Feed Technology Center, Meat and Egg Salesroom, Equine Unit, Dairy Unit, Imported Swine Research Laboratory, Swine Research Center, Poultry Unit, Beef and Sheep Field Laboratory, Dixon Springs Agriculture Center Beef Program, and the Orr Agriculture Beef Center.

I work to develop and oversee a revenue-generating model for all these units which includes a strategy to increase sales revenue and research revenue from externally funded sources. I look at ways to increase efficiencies, identify cost savings, and streamline processes and procedures. A lot of time is spent in establishing and fulfilling contractual agreements with vendors for goods and services.

One of the things I strive to do is create a balance between being in the office and being at the units. I enjoy the chances that I get to go to the units and work the daily operations with the staff members. For example, just last week I was able to take a couple of hours out of my day to go to the beef unit to help assist in some of the breeding.

IFT: What kinds of research does the animal sciences department usually work on?

MOSLEY: There are always several research projects going on at our units. Our department has a strong history in animal nutrition and that is still true today. There will be very few days in a year that we don’t have a cattle feedlot, layer hen, or swine grow-finish nutrition project going on.

IFT: How are students involved?

MOSLEY: Students are a big part of our operations. Overall, on the South Farms we employ somewhere between 40 and 50 students each semester to work our units. They provide us extra help as well as can benefit from the hands-on learning experiences our units can provide. Working with and teaching students has always been one of the best things about the job. It is always exciting to be around students when they start to understand animal agriculture. As in most cases, today students are coming into these roles with very little or no exposure to agricultural animals before.

IFT: What research project in your career are you most proud of?

MOSLEY: While I’ve been involved in a lot of research during my tenure, I’d have to say the most rewarding project revolved around the creation of the portable ventilators (RAPID vent). When COVID initially hit, the medical community around the world saw an increased need for ventilators. This need is what drove a highly skilled team at the U of I to start working on a way to make more.

I had the privilege of being part of the team by helping test the ventilators on the swine farm I managed. During a critical testing period, I worked for over 24 hours straight to not only ensure the safety and well-being of the pigs but also to monitor the effectiveness of the ventilators themselves. The project was a success and companies around the world took advantage of the new product. Knowing that someone’s life could be saved due to our work was extremely rewarding.

IFT: What are some of the biggest changes you have seen over your years at the university?

MOSLEY: Overall, I have been with the Department of Animal Sciences since 2005, starting as a student employee myself. … A lot of things have changed with technology and our ability to be able to collect and share information. When I first started, a lot of our spreadsheets had to be shared on a CD or 3.5-inch floppy drive disk as the files were too large to download using the dial-up internet connections that we had at the farms. Today, most of our units are equipped with a fiber connection and several of our animal housing areas are equipped. These types of advances have created new opportunities for the type of research that can be conducted.

IFT: What are the biggest challenges in research today?

MOSLEY: One of the biggest challenges in animal research today is funding. Animal research requires a lot of labor, infrastructure and equipment, none of which are inexpensive. Furthermore, to produce great research the people doing the work need to be qualified, which today can be difficult to find in the competitive labor market that we are currently in. The cost of infrastructure and equipment is also quickly on the rise. These combined make the cost of research a lot more than it was a year ago.

IFT: Are there are any misconceptions about your work or in the field of animal science you would like to correct?

MOSLEY: The most common misconception about agriculture is that it’s easy. However, regardless of what type of farming you’re involved in, it takes daily commitment, a vast amount of knowledge, and a lot of hard work to be successful. Here at the U of I, we hope to educate and encourage the next generation of farmers.