White Lab: Moo-ving Dairy Cow Nutrition Forward

The Department of Animal and Dairy Sciences meets research and teaching needs that span animal species and disciplines. Specifically, Dr. Heather White’s research team focuses on nutritional physiology in dairy cattle with research that helps ensure that cows are healthy and productive.

The transition to lactation period in dairy cattle represents the most critical time period for health and productivity.  Dr. White’s research program focuses on hepatic carbon flux during the transition to lactation, specifically as it relates to gluconeogeneis and the TCA cycle, and the onset of metabolic disorders.  Fundamental research using hepatocyte cell culture models on glucose and energy metabolism leads to better understanding of the etiology, onset, progression, and genetic predisposition to metabolic disorders, such as ketosis and fatty liver, in cattle and humans.

In conjunction with metabolic health, the type of feed and how much or little a cow eats influences her overall health status. In order to continue to improve the efficiency and environmental sustainability of milk production, there has been an increased effort in selecting for feed efficient animals. However, there is large variation in feed efficiency between cows that has yet to be explained. One method to investigate the variation is by calculating residual feed intake (RFI), which reflects the difference between expected and actual intake when accounting for the animal’s metabolic body weight, milk energy production, and change in body energy. In our lab, we are investigating potential physiological sources of this variation, including post absorptive metabolism of energy metabolites and the efficiency of use of these metabolites by the mammary gland.

Research in the White Lab spans from basic to applied science.  Our continual goal is to conduct science, at both levels, that improves animal health and productivity.  With this goal in mind, we are constantly striving to use basic science to better understand nutritional biochemistry and physiology and thus, improve animal health and productivity.  From cells to cows, impact is key!


  • Assist with sample collection from lactating dairy cows including body weight, blood samples, and liver and muscle biopsy samples. No prior experience is necessary, we will train interested students on how to work with large animals!
  • Processing samples in the laboratory learning how to handle and process feed, milk, and blood samples.
  • Quantify metabolites such as glucose, fatty acids, and ketone bodies in serum samples from cows.
  • Work alongside graduate and undergraduate students to organize data and prepare for research projects.
  • Students will gain organization and communication skills while working with undergraduate and graduate students on research projects.
  • Students will improve their understanding of nutrition, physiology, and genetics, as well understanding aspects of dairy cattle management and food production.
  • Students will gain an appreciation for research and how research and teaching are integrated on campus.
  • Veterinary, medical, graduate, or pharmacy school
  • Dairy cattle nutrition (field sales, consulting, or technical support)
  • Breeding and reproductive technicians
  • Laboratory research specialist and technicians
  • Agricultural education and extension specialists