Research in Dairy Production Deemed Excellent

Tough questions benefit farmers and veterinarians

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Prof. Stephen LeBlanc. Photo by Susan Bubak

Population medicine professor Stephen LeBlanc admits that his research isn’t “sexy.” He’s as likely to be found in a barn as working in a laboratory. His studies focus on asking and answering practical questions for veterinarians and farmers who work with dairy cows.

“I look at what we do with cows – whether it is day-to-day management or feeding, or therapies for illness – and ask, ‘Does this really work, or is it the most effective way?’ There are all sorts of things done with good intentions, or because it’s traditional,” says LeBlanc. “I want to know has this been validated? Is there a better way?”

Finding answers to those questions has led to the publication of more than 50 refereed journal articles and numerous citations of his work. In recognition of these achievements, LeBlanc was awarded the 2013 Zoetis Award for Research Excellence. Presented during U of G’s spring convocation, the award is supported by Zoetis, a company that produces medication and vaccines for animals.

Prof. Todd Duffield was one of LeBlanc’s nominators: “Just in the past few years, Stephen has been invited to speak at the World Buiatrics Conference in Portugal and several regional bovine education meetings in Denmark, Brazil, Germany, Japan, New Zealand and the United States.” In the last nine years, LeBlanc has received almost $1 million in research funding as a primary applicant. “That’s a truly impressive accomplishment in such a short time,” says Duffield.

Another department colleague, Prof. David Kelton, adds, “Beyond his research program, Stephen has taken a leadership role in the teaching of dairy production medicine at OVC,” and is nationally and internationally recognized as a leader in the area of dairy production and the management of dairy cows’ reproductive health. “He is a well-liked, well-respected and well-spoken advocate for food animal practice.”

The nomination also mentioned LeBlanc’s mentoring and training of graduate students. LeBlanc says those students have been key contributors to his research: “I have worked with some outstanding graduate students and collaborate extensively with my colleagues. It is very much a team effort.”

Population medicine professor Kerry Lissemore remembers when LeBlanc joined the OVC team as a DVM student. “I still vividly remember his interview and the ‘spark’ that I saw in him that day,” says Lissemore. “I have watched him mature and develop as a veterinarian, a faculty member and an internationally-recognized research scientist. Stephen has excelled at all three. Not only are the research projects he designs and conducts of the highest quality, he has also demonstrated an uncommon ability to translate his work into the practical development of health management programs.”

LeBlanc is known as an expert on reproductive health because of a series of studies he initiated and acknowledges that he is proud of this work. “These studies have changed how people diagnose and treat some of these conditions. We were able to determine that the usual way of diagnosing reproductive-tract disease was not very effective and suggested a better way,” he says. “We also found that a widely-used treatment was less effective than people thought, and another option worked better.”

He adds that studying the health of cows may not be earth-shattering, but it makes a difference to dairy farmers and veterinarians around the world. “Receiving this award was an unexpected honour and encouragement to keep going with my work.”