- Author: Pamela Kan-Rice
“Dan is the epitome of a farm advisor,” said Jack Cowley, president of the California Beef Cattle Improvement Association. “He advised us on all kinds of issues.”
Cowley has worked with Drake for nearly 30 years. After 29 years of practice as an ophthalmologist in Sacramento, Cowley pursued his dream of becoming a cattle rancher and has consulted Drake on many occasions.
“He helped us with animal health records, organizing breeding, animal nutrition and water issues,” said Cowley. “He helped everybody with farm issues and never turned us down.”
Back in the 1980s, before computers were in every home, Drake co-authored a UC Cooperative Extension publication on how to use computers.
“He was a compute wiz,” Cowley said. “Most of us older farmers and ranchers didn’t know much about computers so he helped us navigate computer issues.”
Drake earned a bachelor’s degree in zoology at California State University, Long Beach, in 1974 and a master’s in animal science at UC Davis in 1977 before starting his career with UC Cooperative Extension in 1978. He later earned a Ph.D. in animal science from Oregon State University in 1988.
Early in his career, Drake helped introduce to Siskiyou County no-till planting methods, intensive grazing management and triticale forage systems. He identified a new rangeland plant, Monte Frio rose clover, an annual clover suited for cold, mountainous areas such as Siskiyou County.
White muscle disease, a disease cattle get from insufficient selenium in their diet, was well known but he further defined its implications on growth and championed alternative and multiple selenium supplementation methods. He also began testing animal and plant tissue and soil at ranches to identify where adding selenium might pose environmental problems.
“When he started, I was 17 and a 4-H exhibitor at the fair,” said Cliff Munson, now CEO of the Siskiyou Golden Fair.
“He led efforts that improved beef production,” said Munson, who is also president of the Siskiyou County Cattlemen's Association. “Carcass data continues to get better and better. For example, he was instrumental to moving the fair to ultrasound data.”
With Jim Oltjen, UC Cooperative Extension specialist in the Department of Animal Science at UC Davis, Drake developed procedures for using ultrasound in youth beef carcass contests. The practice is used statewide nowadays. Using an ultrasound device, like those used on pregnant women to view unborn babies, Drake showed ranchers and 4-H youth how to evaluate the quality of meat on a live animal. They can determine the size of the ribeye, fat thickness and marbling.
4-H members dramatically improved their results using ultrasound data. In 2010, 93 percent of the 45 carcasses entered by 4-H members in the Siskiyou Golden Fair were graded Choice minus or better, compared to 36 percent to 68 percent in previous years.
“This aspect is very important as it is part of the transition that has occurred with producers from raising cattle to raising beef,” Drake said. “It ties in with all of the special niche markets as well.”
For further refinement in breeding beef cattle, Drake studied DNA with Alison Van Eenennaam, UC Cooperative Extension specialist in the Department of Animal Science at UC Davis, testing national DNA prediction equations in local commercial beef ranches.
“In the last few years, he’s helped us understand genetics of the animals,” said Cowley. “We can select our animals to improve the production and quality of the product so that it’s healthier for humans.”
Cowley explained, “My medical background helped me understand animal genetics. We can modify the genetics to improve the quality of the beef to make it more heart healthy.”
Throughout his career, Drake wrote a monthly newsletter called the Siskiyou Stockman to keep ranchers apprised of the latest research. He served as co-editor of the UC beef publication “Fundamentals of Beef Management.”
Recently Drake and Van Eenennaam finished on a three-year project studying the parentage and animal genetics of Cowley’s and two other Siskiyou County ranch animals. With the data, they will evaluate DNA prediction equations and hope to develop economic models to identify which animals are likely to be worth more money based on their genetics.
The American Society of Animal Science honored Drake with their Western Section Extension award in 2007. UC Cooperative Extension recognized his teaching accomplishments with a Distinguished Service Award.
Drake has also volunteered to help producers in other countries. He visited cattle producers in Kazakhstan three times, showing them how to keep records on a computer and update their artificial insemination practices. In Mali, he advised a women’s cooperative on accounting and other business practices.
“They used animals as a bank account. When they needed funds they would sell the animals,” Drake said. He advised the women to sell their sheep and goats when they were ready for harvest and to invest their resources in raising another animal for optimal economic return and better use of their scarce natural resources.
In retirement, Drake looks forward to doing more international consulting. “I have particularly enjoyed international volunteer work for animal producers and will do more,” he said.
He also intends to spend time playing baseball (hardball not softball), dog training, duck hunting and traveling for pleasure.