PRATT — When Sophie Bricker, a Skyline sophomore and FFA member from Pratt County, talked about her research project on bovine plasma at school science contests this past year, some judges weren't quite sure what to make of it.
But at the Kansas State Fair last week in Hutchinson, she found an agriculture-based audience was more receptive to what she wanted to find out by studying IgG (protein in the blood) and ways to incorporate that in milk replacer to raise healthier calves.
"The state fair contest was similar to our school regional science fair, but here the judges asked questions and understood the language about cattle and agriculture more than at some of the other contests I've been in," Bricker said. "I always love to present to an FFA or state fair audience because they get it."
Bricker explained her research to better the nutritional health of orphan calves so well that she won the Grand Champion overall award for the best Agriscience Display at the 2019 state fair.
"I was pretty confident going in because I knew my subject well," Bricker said. "But, still I was surprised to win the overall champion award. I had also seen some of the other competitors exhibits and there were some good ones."
As part of the competition, Bricker stood in front of judges who viewed her display, read her collected data and asked her questions about it. Other competitors could also listen in as well as audience members.
"I got the idea to study a way to improve baby calf health from one of my dad's friends who works at a cattle plant in Dodge City," Bricker said. "They were researching colostrum and I just took it a step further to research protein levels and adding blood plasma back into milk replacer to boost that nutrient."
Bricker said she has fed many calves on her family's ranch near Sun City, and though they weren't actually part of the project from the beginning, she is feeding two baby calves with milk replacer she helped create with added bovine plasma.
She said she is debating extending this project for next year and adding in research to control the variables of calf age and testing blood for Mad Cow Disease or other contaminants.
"If you are going to be adding blood-based protein back into the cattle diet, then you have to be cautious about blood-born diseases," Bricker said. "You would need to know at what temperature all of those bad bacteria can be killed off."
Bricker said she hopes to be a surgeon someday and would like to continue her education at Duke University after high school.