When Noa Román-Muñiz, Lily Edwards Callaway and Catie Cramer received the Excellence in Collaborative Research Award this spring from the College of Agricultural Sciences, they were honored for their innovative work and science-based research that was positively impacting the dairy farming industry.
What the award didn’t spell out was the uniqueness of this partnership: Three women and CSU alumni in a male-dominated industry, coming from wildly different backgrounds, doing ground-breaking research in an area rarely studied – and becoming great friends in the process.
“At work, each of us has a unique focus and a skill set, and this is very important to our partnership,” said Román-Muñiz, a professor of animal sciences and director of undergraduate programs for the department. “But these are also the people I go to when life gets stressful – the ones I confide in. We talk about work; we talk about our families. We are there for each other.”
This unlikely alliance finds strength in widely varied individual backgrounds.
Edwards-Callaway grew up in Rhode Island, studied French as an undergraduate and, other than a love for animals growing up, had no background in agriculture. After being admitted to CSU as Temple Grandin’s graduate student, her path was set. After teaching at Kansas State University for three years, she took a job with JBS, often working with dairy cattle. She joined CSU’s faculty in 2017.
Cramer grew up around horses at her home near Pueblo and didn’t take an interest in cattle until joining FFA in high school. She graduated from CSU with a B.S. in Animal Sciences, and during this time she was fortunate enough to take a dairy systems course from Román-Muñiz, which solidified her interest in dairy cattle. After earning a master’s and Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin, she’s been on faculty at CSU since 2019.
Román-Muñiz grew up in Puerto Rico and is the only member of the trio with a dairy farm background. After earning her DVM degree from the University of Wisconsin, she completed an internship in food animal internal medicine and surgery, and a master’s at CSU. She has been on faculty since 2008.
“CSU has a great history of serving many sectors of the ag industry, and the fact that we view issues through different lenses helps us identify solutions to complex problems,” Cramer said. “It’s exciting to work with two women I truly admire and respect, but we’re also good friends. We get the best of both worlds.”
Much of their work has focused on the challenges of end-of-life decisions for dairy cattle and helping dairy operations reach the right decisions at the right time. At the same time, they focus attention on the workers making those decisions and how it can impact their well-being.
“One of the strengths of our group is that we’re not focused on only one aspect of some of these animal welfare challenges – we look at promoting positive relationships between humans and animals,” Edwards-Callaway said. “How are euthanasia decisions impacting workers and the animals they have cared for on a daily basis? In the end, it’s all about making the best decision for both animals and their human caretakers.”
Not surprisingly, this powerful triumvirate is just getting started. They recently landed a large USDA grant that will bring together experts from across campus to consider end of life decision making in dairy cattle. Looking ahead, the team is engaging with campus collaborators, industry stakeholders and producer partners on projects related to feedlot workers’ perceptions about animal care, effective teaching strategies for undergraduate students, calf transport, and the shortage of livestock veterinary services in Colorado.
“We really want to make things better for the people who are invisible in agriculture – the workers who care for livestock animals,” Román-Muñiz said. “Working with Catie and Lily is really helping to elevate that message and making a difference. When workers are better off, so are the animals they care for.”