Dr. Michael Thonney: Distinguished Graduate in Science, Education, & Technology 2015

Michael Thonney received his BS in Animal Sciences from Washington State University in 1971. After obtaining his MS (1973) and PhD (1975) degrees in nutrition at the University of Minnesota, he began as an Assistant Professor of Animal Science at Cornell University, attaining the rank of Professor in 1988.

Initially, he was interested in quantifying growth and body composition of cattle and sheep. He optimized St. Clair Taylor’s mature weight genetic size-scaling rules as a scaling factor for beef and sheep nutrition and growth data. Later, he extended this research to quantify expression of several candidate genes in splenius (neck) and semitendinosus (leg) muscles of growing male sheep. He also identified several genetic markers for seasonal breeding and milk production with DNA from backcrossed ewes. Moreover, he showed that an allele of one candidate gene, coding for melatonin receptor 1A, shortened the age at which a ewe lambed for the first time and the days from first to second lambing.

Over the years, Dr. Thonney has trained 15 undergraduate students, 11 graduate students and 6 postdoctoral fellows. He has published extensively on biology and management of beef cattle and sheep in animal-related journals and has given invited presentations in Scotland, New Zealand, Australia, Canada, and the United States.

Currently, his research and extension activities are: 1) examining the role of fermentable fiber on nutrition of cattle and sheep; 2) investigating sheep and shepherd changes to reduce labor associated with lambing and kidding seasons in sheep and goats; and 3) leading a research and extension program to reduce the effects of internal parasites on sheep and goats in the Northeast.

Dr. Thonney has directed the Cornell Sheep Program since 1998, including major decisions associated with the 300- to 500-ewe flock managed under the STAR accelerated lambing system.

He advises 20 to 25 undergraduate students and teaches courses on farm animal biology and management, alternating between beef cattle and sheep, with 60 to 80 students in spring semesters. In addition, Dr. Thonney is his department’s alternate senator for both the university and college faculty senates. He has been the Director of Graduate Studies for the cross-departmental Field of Animal Science at Cornell University since January 2013.