Vet thrives in lab, lecture hall
Beef expert develops tools to accurately identify diseases while in the field
By TIM HEARDEN
REDDING, Calif. -- Surrounded by students, farmers and ranchers on a recent warm summer evening, John Maas maintained a firm grip on their attention.
The beef extension veterinarian at the University of California-Davis mixed humor with down-to-earth language as he taught producers how to spot high fever or respiratory problems in their cattle.
Traditionally, a veterinarian who gets a call about a sick cow would hear "she's ADR -- ain't doing right," Maas quipped, which is "near no information at all."
By knowing how to observe and examine his livestock, a producer can provide his veterinarian with some critical information, Maas told his audience.
"Our sight, listening and even the smell of things can tell us what's going on with the disease process," the 63-year-old Maas told the small gathering at the Shasta College farm in Redding, Calif., on Aug. 24.
When it comes to refrigerated vaccines for cattle, Maas advised his audience to keep the capsules cold -- but not too cold.
"We need the Coors label," he said. "Not only does it need to get blue, it needs to stay blue. The problem is we treat our vaccines like we treat our Coors beer -- the colder the better. ... At 29 degrees, the vaccine is toast. You may as well drink the beer and enjoy the cows in the pasture."
Maas' down-to-earth style perhaps belies a career of being in on some of the most critical cutting-edge research involving the beef industry, including cattle nutrition, vitamin metabolism, internal medicine and herd health management.
A 1973 graduate of UC-Davis' veterinary school, Maas has been on the university's faculty since 1988. Also an active rancher for more than 35 years, Maas traveled to several European countries on a USDA mission to review diagnosis, testing and control systems for bovine spongiform encephalopathy.
While some college professors seem to prefer lecturing over research while others would perhaps rather be in the lab than the classroom, Maas enjoys both.
"For me they complement each other," he said in an interview. "The research makes me a better teacher, and the questions that come up in my teaching ... make me a better researcher. They're not mutually exclusive, although sometimes you run short on time."
A native of Shasta County in Northern California, Maas remembers always having been interested in biology and science and wanting to study medicine, he said.
"I love working with cows and with producers," he said. "It's just a lot of fun."
Maas earned his bachelor's degree in biology and chemistry at California State University-Chico before attending UC-Davis. He later received a degree in microbiology at the University of Missouri, and he is board certified in internal medicine and animal nutrition.
In his tenure at UC-Davis, Maas has become known around the country as an expert in veterinary nutrition and internal medicine. Among his most important accomplishments, he said, was to help develop tools for ranchers or veterinarians to tell if an animal has deficient, normal or toxic levels of trace minerals and vitamins, he said.
In the old days, they took a forage sample and measured it, he said. Now they take samples from the animal.
"The feed that is put into an animal is (a producer's) No. 1 cost, and the calf that comes out is the No. 1 moneymaker," Maas said. "So what nutrition does is it allows the two things to make sense."
Aside from taking part in critical research, Maas also works as a liaison with extension workers, veterinarians, beef cattle producers, industry representatives and other faculty, and he frequently travels to speak to various groups.
At Shasta College, he frequently does beef quality assurance training for livestock classes, said Trena Kimler-Richards, an agriculture instructor at the community college.
"He's awesome," Kimler-Richards said. "He's an excellent teacher at explaining what he's trying to bring across. He can talk in layman's terms and bring you into medical terms. And he's very current."
Maas and his wife, Cathy, have been married 42 years. Her parents, John and Mary Crowe, were two of Shasta County's early pioneers. John and their two sons are partners in a ranch in the area.
But it'll be a few more years before Maas retires to the ranch, he said. There's more work to do on animal nutrition, he said.
"I'm going to work on that for the next few years," he said, "then I'm going to work on my golf game."
Occupation: Rancher; beef extension veterinarian, University of California-Davis
Family: Wife, Cathy; two grown sons