Montana State University

Research Roundup at Montana State University (#239)

November 8, 2004 -- From MSU News Service

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Dairy cow power

Farmers with small operations might be able to benefit from turning manure into electricity. Blair Stringam, assistant professor of agricultural operations technology at MSU, wants to develop technology for very small farms by building a methane digester on a dairy farm near Amsterdam. If all goes well, manure from the dairy cattle will be pumped into a 45,000 gallon enclosed tank. An anaerobic process will break down the manure and turn it into methane gas. The gas will generate electricity. Construction could begin in March. The digester might be operating by the end of the summer. Stringam hopes the two-year project will generate electricity for the farmer and NorthWestern Energy. He hopes the lessons learned will serve others, too.

Geology locked out

Changes in land ownership in Montana and other states are making access to some classic geologic sites hard to obtain. "It's hugely important," argued MSU geology professor David Mogk, that field experiences in the form of day trips, regional excursions and field camps remain open to students. But increasingly, as private lands change hands and get subdivided, geologists and their students are being denied access to traditional sites. Mogk is issuing a "call to arms" to the geological community next week in Denver at the annual Geological Society of America meeting. Mogk wants geologists to begin working to expand access before it's too late. For one, geologists should begin cultivating good landowner relations. For another, geologists must develop a heightened sense of stewardship of geologic sites and leave a light footprint when visiting.

Colicky horses

Unless your horse can talk like Mr. Ed, it's hard to know for sure when it has colic. John Peroni, keynote speaker at MSU's first equine conference, said abrupt changes in feed, exercise and environment can all lead to colic. Colicky horses may act depressed and not respond to voices or commands. They can roll around, go into the fetal position or act so violently that no one can get near them. Colic can usually be fixed by a local veterinarian in the field. Occasionally, horses need to go to the hospital. Peroni helped develop computer software that shows in 3-D, moving pictures how a horse's intestine can become so twisted that surgery is the only solution.

Camping in a crater

Lugging rocks out of Mount St. Helens is no easy task. Montana State University geologist Todd Feeley, three undergraduate students, two graduate students and assistant professor Mark Skidmore flew by helicopter into the crater during the summer of 2003 and camped overnight. By the time they left, they had collected 30 to 40 bags of rocks, each bag weighing five pounds. The rocks were samples for MSU studies, Feeley said. During the summer of 2004, the MSU team hiked into the crater with sledgehammers and lab equipment. They were probably one of the last groups allowed in the crater before recent eruptions closed it to researchers. MSU is on the waiting list to receive new samples.

Evelyn Boswell, (406) 994-5135 or evelynb@montana.edu