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UW professor utilizes platform

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

Laramie – Hannah Cunningham-Hollinger grew up in Kaycee on her family’s ranch, raising Hereford and Angus cattle and Suffolk sheep. Growing up, she was very active in 4-H and FFA.

        Upon graduating high school, Hannah pursued her post-secondary education at St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minn., where she received a Bachelor’s of Art in Biology.

Hannah shares, “St. Olaf did not have an ag program, and while I valued my education greatly, I knew I needed to return to ag roots.”

        This led Hannah the University of Wyoming (UW) where she received her Master of Science in Animal and Veterinary Science with a focus on ruminant nutrition, where she shares she developed a passion for teaching and research.

        Upon receiving her master’s degree, Hannah went on to obtain her PhD in Animal and

Veterinary Science with a focus in animal genetics. Today, she teaches as a professor at UW with a focus on animal genetics.

        Throughout her post-secondary education, Hannah realized she had a passion to teach and decided to pursue a career where she could fulfill the land grant mission of teaching, research and Extension.

        Hannah continues, “My position doesn’t have a formal Extension appointment, but my goal is to keep my research focused on helping the agricultural industry and our great producers of Wyoming.”

Animal genetics

        Hannah’s objective as a professor in animal genetics is to teach and develop a “strong” research program aimed at improving livestock production.

“Our research group focuses on understanding the maternal influences on the developing rumen microbiome in an effort to improve health, efficiency and performance of offspring through management of the gestation period of the cow or ewe,” says Hannah.

        Her research position allows her to make lasting impacts and reminds Hannah of her “why.”

        “Having a teaching appointment is equally rewarding, as it allows an opportunity for me to interact with the next generation of agriculturalists and help students to discover their career goals and develop skills to achieve those goals,” shares Hannah.

        Student involvement is very important to Hannah.

 “Without graduate students and undergraduate students on our research projects, we would not be able to accomplish what we have thus far,” she says. “I get immense joy from working with both undergraduate and graduate students, both in the classroom and on research projects.”

Position in the classroom

        Hannah’s work focuses on livestock genetics and understanding the role of the rumen microbiome in performance and efficiency.

 “I get to share my passion for genetics and animal breeding with students while also using basic/molecular research to build on existing knowledge and investigate problems impacting livestock producers,” she explains. “Integrating teaching and research allows me to continue to learn and discover new ideas, which creates a very rewarding and exciting career.”

        To have a career in which her work is meaningful and gives great purpose, is important to Hannah.

“Every day I get to work with students and colleagues who have a common goal – to advocate and support the agriculture industry.”

Through Hannah’s research, she has found several exciting discoveries.

Hannah explains, “There ae two very exciting things we have discovered or learned this far – characterized reproductive tract microbiome in cattle, which until now, has been very limited in literature. In humans and mice, this work has been done, but in livestock species it was not well characterized throughout gestation.”

        Hannah credits two of her first graduate students, Kelly Woodruff and Gwen Hummel, who published work characterizing these microbiomes that will continue to propel their hypotheses into the future.

        Hannah continues, “These students also helped to characterize the impact that late gestation maternal nutrition has, not only on the reproductive tract microbiome of the cow, but also the developing rumen microbiome in the calves. From this we learned that impacts of maternal gestational nutrition begin to manifest in the rumen microbiome as the animal begins to develop a functional rumen.”

        The research Hannah and her students have completed serves as the foundation in developing gestational management strategies to “program” the rumen microbiome and further enhance the performance of offspring, Hannah explains.

Outside of the office

When Hannah is not busy working, she enjoys spending time with her family and livestock.

“My husband Ben and I have a beautiful 15-month-old daughter named Mary, who has been our biggest blessing,” says Hannah.

        The family does many ranching activities together – working cattle and sheep, collecting samples and all things work-related. The Hollinger’s run a few cows and sheep and enjoy working with their personal livestock and continuing to grow their operation.

Future of ag

        The future of agriculture is bright with the work of Hannah at UW and in the agriculture field.

        To Hannah, the importance of working in agriculture means, “Being resilient, often putting the needs of your stock ahead of your own, staying rooted in the foundations of our industry while also continuing to learn and improve production, striving to provide quality products for the entire world to utilize without any expectation of recognition and being a part of an industry that is upheld by the best quality people.”

        She shares, “This way of life must continue, not only from the perspective of providing quality products used in every aspect of life, but also for the continuation of a way of life that embodies the American dream and raises individuals to become hard working, driven and productive members of society.”

        Hannah continues, “The ag industry is one that values your character and work ethic.”

        From her experience she shares, “I have never felt unwelcomed or questioned in this industry and I believe that is a result of two things: the amazing women in agriculture who have come before me and have made huge impacts on the industry and the folks of this industry value women’s character and work ethic beyond anything else.”

        She concludes, “If you have a passion for ag, just know the stockmen and stockwomen of this industry are the most dedicated, resilient and honest people, and they will support you getting involved in ag and offer help wherever they can. Seize opportunities and never lose the ability to appreciate the hard learned lessons of those in the industry and continue to share your passions with those within and, importantly so, with those outside of the industry as well.”

Brittany Gunn is the editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to 

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