Decades worth of research in the UF/IFAS Department of Animal Sciences from key researchers such as George Davis, Raymond Becker, Clarence Ammerman and Lee McDowell has led to nutrient improvements that saved the Florida beef cattle industry and now helps it prosper.

During the 1940s, when World War II was raging and the need for food was at an all-time high, Florida’s beef cattle were dying from what ranchers termed “salt sickness.” No one knew what caused the animals to become sick, but it only occurred in certain areas. The late Dr. George K. Davis, who was a professor of nutrition and a nutritionist in the Florida Agricultural Experiment Station, investigated differences between the forage of healthy areas and salt-sick areas where livestock grazed, searching for mineral deficiencies. After traditional analytic methods did not work, his team pioneered the use of radioisotopes in large domestic animals and discovered that the affected cattle had a copper deficiency. At Davis’ recommendation, ranchers applied copper sulfate to pastureland, which drastically improved the copper content of forage and the average weight, life expectancy and grade of the cattle.

Davis was the first scientist from the University of Florida elected to the National Academy of Sciences. The distinguished members of this society are elected by their peers “for outstanding contributions to research.”

“Much of [Davis’] work addressed fundamental questions, but he always tried to balance it with applied research,” colleague and biographer Robert Cousins wrote in Biographical Memoirs. “He wanted to do work that offered a tangible benefit to society.” 

The most important purpose of UF/IFAS research is to discover science-based solutions that make tangible, positive impacts on the lives of people worldwide. Click here to view the more of our greatest accomplishments.