Why Iowa Profile: Dr. Dan Thomson

Dr. Dan Thomson

Why Iowa? Q&A with Dr. Dan Thomson

Dr. Dan Thomson was named the chair of the Department of Animal Science at Iowa State University in January 2020 and began work in April. Dr. Thomson is an internationally known leader, researcher, and instructor in animal health management, animal welfare, and beef cattle production. He served on the faculty at Kansas State University for 15 years as the Jones Professor of Production Medicine and Epidemiology at Kansas State University and founded the Beef Cattle Institute in Kansas State’s College of Veterinary Medicine.

Dr. Thomson is a native of Clearfield, Iowa, who earned two degrees at Iowa State University — a bachelor’s degree in animal science and a doctor of veterinary medicine (DVM). He has a master’s degree in ruminant nutrition from South Dakota State University and a doctorate in ruminant nutrition from Texas Tech University.

The Department of Animal Science is part of the College of Agriculture and Life Science at Iowa State. The department serves more than 1,000 undergraduate students and over 75 graduate and post-doctoral students, and employs 53 faculty, 22 collaborating faculty, and 75 staff. The department also hosts three centers serving animal agriculture: the Iowa Pork Industry Center, Iowa Beef Center, and the Egg Industry Center. It manages the Meat Science Laboratory and, with the college, teaching and research farms devoted to the study of dairy, beef, equine, poultry, sheep, and swine.

1. You’ve had the opportunity to study, conduct research and teach at multiple universities. What attracted you back to Iowa State?

First, it’s home. I am a third-generation veterinarian trained at Iowa State: my grandfather earned his veterinary medicine degree in 1938, my father in 1967, and I earned mine in 2000.

Iowa is a special place. It is the only place where agriculture is woven into everything and is well supported within communities across the state.

Iowa State University carries an important responsibility to agriculture in our state and to the nation and the world. What we get done at Iowa State in both agriculture and academia is second to none. As an avid sports fan, I’d say that Iowa State University is to our nation’s agriculture what the University of Alabama is to college football and UConn is to women’s basketball: we don’t rebuild, we reload.

2. What are the priorities for animal science at Iowa State?

Our priorities are teaching, research, and extension duties to fulfill the land grant mission. In my opinion, our number one priority in the animal science department is undergraduate training. Livestock operations in Iowa provide more than 180,000 jobs and they need an expert workforce to continue producing and innovating.

We want our undergraduates to have an in-depth understanding of production and to be prepared for what they will face as an industry professional, owner, or employee. Whether it is beef, dairy, swine, poultry, or turkey, when you leave Iowa State you will be ready for work on Day One with a good understanding, hands-on experience, and a network of people that can support you throughout your career. We will provide experiential, hands-on training that is integrated with classroom work, internship experience and the 7 teaching farms that are part of the university.

Research and extension will always be a top priority. We must continue to be on the cutting edge of research in bioscience and animal agriculture, and to make sure our programs are extremely relevant to modern agriculture. We stay relevant by listening to farmers and stakeholders in the industry, understanding issues, replicating real-world situations in our facilities, as well as putting people on the ground in barns and facilities.

Our faculty and staff must be available, engaged, and provide proper resources to help Iowans invested in farming do better than ever. We will be listening to our stakeholders to bring back information to campus so researchers can work on solutions to the problems they are facing.

At Iowa State, we don’t have luxury of having a good program in just one area or for one species. Iowa is a top-ten producer in a number of animal agriculture segments – swine, beef, dairy, goats, sheep, turkey, not to mention crop production. We are committed to serving our state’s producers in all of those industries well, and providing students with the training and resources they need no matter which segment they choose.

3. There is a strong network of ag/animal science research organizations and companies in Iowa. How does that concentration of companies and organization benefit students and faculty? How does that benefit Iowa farmers and communities?

We are fortunate to have strong ag companies and organizations in our state who are important partners. As a land grant institution, our mission is to support Iowa’s industries and train tomorrow’s leaders. We want our students to do internships and gain experience working with leading farmers and companies of all sizes. We also want their input and expertise on campus so we can understand what is important for researchers to be focused on.

4. What advice would you give to someone considering a move to Iowa?

For industry professionals considering a move to Iowa … hurry! Iowa is the most exciting environment there is for a career in agriculture. From biosciences to agribusiness, there is an opportunity for everyone to be involved. And, our Iowa communities do things right, providing a great place to raise a family and lots of entertainment and activities for after work and weekends.

For students, if you want to be at a university with the best faculty, world-class teaching and advisement, and a production-based curriculum, there is no better place to be than Iowa State. We’re taking a hands-on and boots-on-the-ground approach to agricultural education that is bringing the nation’s agricultural companies here looking for top students and graduates.

5. What are three recommendations for things to do or places to go in Iowa?

Since moving back to Iowa, I’ve discovered and enjoyed the High Trestle Trail. It runs for 25 miles through four counties in central Iowa and includes a 13-story high bridge across the Des Moines River valley. There are also great places to stop along the trail.

The Iowa State University campus offers so many things to do. You don’t have to be an ISU alumnus or even an Iowan to come and enjoy with us. I’m looking forward to when we are able to be as active as we were before the COVID-19 pandemic, with constant activity on campus, including sports, theatre and performing arts, and premier speaker at lecture events.

My favorite Iowa State Park is Lake of Three Fires near Bedford, Iowa, in the southwest part of the state. Great fishing, a small beach, and a great place to get away.