Careers in Animal Nutrition: Shelly Tiede and Kelly Peper

Shelly Tiede (née Widmer) and Kelly Peper are former students in the Stein Monogastric Nutrition Lab. Shelly received her Master's degree in 2007, and Kelly earned her Ph. D. earlier this year. Today, they both work in Swine Technical Services at Ralco Animal Nutrition, a vitamin-mineral premix company. Recently, they returned to the lab for a visit, and sat down to talk about their work.

How do you spend your work day?
Kelly: I'm pretty split. I do a lot of  writing up reports on the nursery and finisher experiments we do. I've been trying to keep on top of the new stuff that comes through, but I also wrote up a lot of research that was done before I was there. I do also formulate a lot of diets.

Shelly: I would say 80% of my time is spent out in the field with customers, 10% working with the mill, probably another 10% research. I don't do as much research now, since we've hired some new tech people.

I love working with the customers. There's something new every day, always a new problem that you get to help them solve. You're part of their team. And when you're part of their team, they become really good friends with you. There's huge satisfaction when you can see that they're making money, and they really like what you're doing.

Kelly: That's the direction I'm planning to move in also. I'll be out in the field. I'll probably stick with some research also, because I enjoy research, but my ultimate goal is to be more with the customers. So I'm working on getting trained the rest of the way so I can get out there more.

What aspects of your work here in the lab are serving you well in your career?
Kelly: Dr. Stein makes sure that you have a good base. I've got the knowledge to go behind what I'm learning. So, sure, I needed to learn more formulation, I needed to learn how to use the Brill software, but I knew what I was doing in that I could look at pigs that weren't doing well and think of possible causes and solutions. He does a really good job of making sure that you're well rounded. I came in with a bunch of stats knowledge, and he made me take a bunch of biochemistry classes, and I'm glad that he did. He helps you form that base.

Shelly: I agree. He takes you to a lot of conferences, and you learn a lot from that too. He took us to producer meetings with him. And he went over the reports. And that was great, because you really see what's out in the industry.

What else is helpful for students thinking about going into industry?
Shelly: Business classes. One big thing business classes help with is talking to producers. Because it's their business. They're always talking about markets. I don’t think you ever go out on a customer call without somebody talking about markets and what the corn's doing, what pig prices are doing, about puts and calls. And if you don't know what that means, you lose a lot of credibility, just because you have no idea what they're talking about.

As an undergrad [at South Dakota State University], there was a business side and a science side of animal science. And on the business side, you took a lot of your farm management classes. If you don't have that base, I think you really limit where you can go. It's great to know the science, but you need to know how the business works too. At least that's my experience.

Is there anything else that either of you would like to tell people who might be thinking about a career in animal sciences?
Shelly: There are so many opportunities right now. Once you graduate, you should be able to get a job, and you should be able to get a good job. You should have your pick of jobs, because there are so many out there right now. There are a lot of older people who are going to be retiring, and we don't have a lot of young people to take that over. There's going to be quite a shortage.

Kelly: I agree. Also, get as much hands on experience as you can. In my job, if I can't walk into a barn and look around and see where you can make improvements, what's right, what's wrong, I'm not very useful in that barn. Definitely get some hands on experience; don't be afraid to walk into that barn and ask some questions.

Shelly: I totally agree with that. When we're looking for a tech person, we look at somebody who has the background, and can walk into a barn. We really look at internships – they're really positive. We want someone we don't have to teach everything.