Lethbridge-based researcher has contributed to so many

From left: Dr. Francois Eudes, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (Lethbridge); Dr. Karen Beauchemin, Award Recipient; Dr. Tim McAllister, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (Lethbridge).

When Karen Beauchemin first started her career in agricultural research, she couldn’t have predicted what kind of career she would have and all of the beef producers she would assist.

In mid August, the Principal Research Scientist of Ruminant Nutrition at the Lethbridge Research and Development Centre with Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada was given the 2020 Canadian Beef Industry Award for Outstanding Research and Innovation during the pandemic-altered 2020 Canadian Beef Industry Conference. 

“I was happy, really truly an honour,” explained the amiable and well-spoken scientist. 

“I was so honoured and so surprised. There are so many researchers out there who could be recognized.”

She says there was no one particular study she was given the honour for but was told was her many years in the industry and the the whole massive body of work she has done.

In the release Beauchemin was described as “a leader in ruminant nutrition and the environmental sustainability of beef production.” 

One of her recent studies in July of this year included “publishing a Beef Cluster study examining whether replacing barley grain with corn silage in backgrounding diets impacted animal performance and carcass characteristics (Effects of feeding corn silage from short-season hybrids and extending the backgrounding period on production performance and carcass traits of beef cattle, “

She is also an adjunct professor at the University of Saskatchewan, University of Alberta, and Utah State University. Dr. Beauchemin's work focuses on developing nutritional knowledge and technologies for the beef and dairy industries to improve the efficiency of production and reduce environmental impact. She received her Master of Science with a Major in Agriculture from Université Laval with distinction in 1982 followed by a Ph.D. in Ruminant Nutrition with distinction from the University of Guelph in 1988.”

She has loved her time in Lethbridge at the research centre and only briefly considered in 1988 in moving. She is glad she didn’t move. 

A lot of what she has been working on and which agriculture seems to have received a lot of media attention is the relationship between beef production and the environment, specifically aspects such as water use and the amount of methane gas produced by cattle. 

Beauchemin says the forage base is so important and the grazing based system is key and whatever she can do to help alleviate concerns plus making everything for the producers more efficient such as getting the highest yield of leaner meat, with more protein and doing it in a cost effective. Each of these are important to her. 

“We don’t want to be losing that (system),” explains the scientist. “Canada has a great story to tell…feed efficiency is complex.”

She says pasture and watershed management and the details of animal diet including the vegetation out on pasture land all the way to feed supplements is all critical now. 

Besides the obvious advances in technology, her field has changed a lot since she first started. 

Consumers want mea that is socially acceptable,” says Beauchemin. It is on the production side, what is it about the meat and how it was produced and raised, figuring out how to to do it and what society wants versus price to do it… I,.e extra 10 cents per pound of beef. It is not just about science anymore, it is about the consumer demands which makes it (from the scientific research side) a lot more complicated.”

Beauchemin credits working with some amazing people and being part of a team of scientists. With research products now, people now have their areas of expertise and this makes the end goal of projects go faster and more efficiently. She says there are not a lot “generalists” which are experts on everything.  

Her work, longevity speaks for itself but something which gets overlooked is her relationship she has with the students that she teaches. She gets a huge amount of satisfaction with not only the gratitude her former students show, but they have done with themselves. Beauchemin notes that one the award announcement went public she received numerous notes of congratulations and thanks. She points out that the expertise that each individual brought to past teams is always critical.

“Seeing former students or former colleagues and see where they are today is gratifying,” she explains. They are building their own careers… not only research but on the technical side too. It is so rewarding that people can go on to. It is really nice to get those emails.” 

She says while awards are an acknowledgement of what was accomplished, there is literally no time to rest on one’s laurels.

“As researchers, we are always looking ahead,” she explains. “Rarely do we have time to reflect on accomplishments… it is on to the next (project).”

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