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Dairy Center to be Showcased During 2010 Farm Tech Days

By Jessica Bergan
University Communications

MAY 12, 2009 | As the University of Wisconsin-River Falls approaches the 100th anniversary of the College of Agriculture, Food and Environmental Sciences, lab farming operations at University of Wisconsin-River Falls Lab Farms are not what they used to be.

The UWRF Dairy Learning Center, which opened fall 2007, is proving to be a showcase of 21st century agriculture with farm machinery operated by biodiesel fuels and a more environmentally conscious dairy operation.

The DLC will be featured during 2010 Wisconsin Farm Technology Days, to be held July 20-22, 2010, at the Peterson Family farms located two miles west of River Falls. It will be the first time the statewide event that draws 70,000 to 80,000 people is held in Pierce County.

Although the county coordinates the event, faculty and staff from the University will be participating as volunteers for a variety of activities. “The event will consist of field demonstrations, a tour of the Dairy Learning Center, displays and activities involving horticulture, natural resources, family living and youth with an emphasis on education,” says Laura Walsh, an administrative program manager in the College of Agriculture, Food and Environmental Sciences at UWRF.

The Dairy Learning Center is equipped with new technology to make the dairy operation run smoother and more efficiently as well as in an environmentally friendly manner.

Several student employees have been working at the DLC located at University’s Mann Valley Lab Farm 2 for just over a year. Jenelle Laska, a senior agricultural education major from Winona, Minn., is one of many students on the crew and has witnessed the dairy operations move from the Campus Lab Farm 1 to Lab Farm 2.

“Since every cow has a transponder around their neck, it is easier to keep track of their milk production and activity,” she said. In addition, milking is now much smoother because of being able to milk the cows in groups of six, instead of individually, she said. Not only that, but a crowd gate that also scrapes manure helps gather the cattle up with just a push of a button.

UWRF lab farm director Bill Connolly said that the farms have come a long way since they first began nearly 100 years ago. The very first lab farm was located where the Agricultural Science building on the main campus currently stands. There are now two separate farms with continually growing programs.

Connolly said that UWRF is known as a great “feeder” school for students furthering their education in graduate school. With the addition of land just a mile off campus, Campus Lab Farm 1 began with dairy, swine, poultry and sheep operations.

Shortly after that, in the late 1960s, UWRF bought the land that is now known as Mann Valley Lab Farm 2, and all livestock operations except dairy were moved to Lab Farm 2. During this time, animal science Professor Larry Kasten started the largest equine program at a public university east of the Mississippi.

When the old dairy facilities needed repairs, the choices were to fix them or to build a new facility. Consolidating labs, labor and equipment, along with other issues, were the primary reasons UWRF chose to re-locate the dairy operations to Lab Farm 2 and start from scratch, said Connolly. Although the building plans were postponed several times, the plan was finally approved and the facility opened in October 2007.

The new DLC has the capacity to hold 100 cows, says Connolly. A smaller herd allows the DLC to remain close to campus for instructional convenience. The faculty is still able to teach dairy science principles to the students and the public with a herd this size. The DLC is home for UWRF students’ lab work, but Argosy University and Globe College lease it as a part of their large animal programs as well.

Efficiency was a key factor in the new facilities. The cattle are currently bedded with wood shavings, which are actively tilled using a digger to create compost as a by-product. The bedding pack keeps the cattle warm in the winter, as the heat created can reach up to 120-130 degrees.

To create extra revenue and enhance public awareness of the farm, Connolly decided to sell the compost starting in 2004. Sales average about $9,000 per year in revenue.

“It’s just another way of handling manure in Wisconsin,” said Connolly. “When customers come to the farm expecting to buy just compost, they go home with a lot more than that; newly created friendships are formed, more knowledge about the dairy industry is gained, and they leave with a feeling of satisfaction.”

Other benefits of the DLC are grade scales to promote accurate records, heated floors in the holding parlor, better feed storage and state-of-the art classrooms. “The classrooms are wonderful,” said UWRF dairy herd manager John Galgowski. “We are enhancing the learning experience for all by having updated facilities. Just seeing the students walk in with a smile on their faces because they are so happy to go to lab is a great feeling.”

Students say that the dairy labs in the DLC generally run much smoother and easier because of the ability to show the animals better. Chores, too, are also run more efficiently. The calves are now inside where it is faster and more convenient for the student workers to feed them. She also stated that the cows seem happier because the chore crew now is capable of keeping feed in front of them at all hours of the day.

Another great benefit of having cows on Lab Farm 2 is the positive ventilation aspects of the buildings that are spread out.

“The new facilities make it easier for the most part. Just like any business, we are still going through growing pains, and learning new and easier ways to complete things,” said Galgowski. “Overall, it has been a success. Our mission for education has been greatly enhanced.”


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