UW-Madison Opens Newest Dairy Facility

US - It has been a long road, but one goal of the UW-Madison Dairy Science Department is now reality.
calendar icon 18 August 2008
clock icon 4 minute read

The newest addition to UW-Madison’s dairy facilities dedicated to serving Wisconsin’s and the nation’s dairy producers, was officially dedicated last week on location in Arlington, writes Crystal McNett Assistant Editor, Agri-View.

“It has been a relatively long journey for our department and college,” noted Ric Grummer, Dairy Science Department chairperson. But the department now has an elite facility for research to prove that it is the premier dairy science department and school in the country.

The new facility is located on Badger Lane outside of Arlington. It includes a parlor and two freestall barns that are all specially geared to foster research projects in an environment that closely resembles a typical dairy operation today.

Cows first entered the barns in June of this year, just 20 months after a planning committee met with Dean Molly Jahn of the UW-Madison College of Agricultural and Life Sciences. Although initial planning began in 1994, the project had previously been at a standstill.

“Dairy industry partnership has been absolutely essential to achieve the facility…” said Jahn. Those industry partners help the researchers gain a certain element of credibility to their work, Grummer said. “(Industry involvement) is why we think we have a leg up on other research facilities.”

The Dairy Business Association under the direction of Laurie Fischer, created Dairy Building Contractors and hired dairy producer John Pagel as the lead. The facility is a consequence of a vision of Wisconsin’s dairy future and had many people involved, noted Jahn.

Important to note is the purpose of the facility. “We did not build this as an experiment. We built it to do experiments,” said Lou Armentano, UW dairy science professor and one of the lead designers of the facility.

The herd is currently at 310 cows milking and the facility can house 450 cows, explained herdsman Mike Peters. The herd will continue to expand from within by using sexed semen on virgin heifers and embryo transfer.

All of the cows at this facility are housed in freestalls bedded with sand. Alleys are scrapped with automatic scrapers, which push manure into a central flume that leads to a sand separator and two subsequent lagoons. The sand separating lanes were designed by Dairy Building Contractors (DBC), not the university.

The only exception is the calving and special needs pens which are bedded with straw. That manure is handled separately. The larger of the two freestall barns has four sections that all serve a specific purpose.

The first is a 96-cow pen with head-to-head stalls and headlocks. It’s pretty much a typical straight commercial facility, said Armentano.

A second section of the barn is dedicated to special needs cows. A vet office and treatment room is enclosed and allows for many different actions from trimming feet to taking biopsies. Also in this section of the barn are two special needs pens and four close-up pens. Cows and heifers that are scheduled to calve in the same week come into the close-up pens a few weeks prior to their calving date and are not moved until after calving.

Two additional sections of the barn are dedicated to facilitate pen-based research. Taking up the north side of the barn, these freestalls are divided into 16 groups of eight cows. This allows researchers to conduct their projects with groups of eight cows housed in eight head-to-head stalls, resulting in more repetition and power of their experiments, Armentano explained. Each group can be gated off and has its own crossover, waterer and feeding area.

The parlor had to be specially designed to handle groups of eight cows and to be able to return those animals to their pens without a lot of hassle. The parlor is a unique, split parlor that appears to be a double-16 parallel parlor. However, the parlor is essentially a “quadruple-8”, said Armentano. The rapid exits on the parallel stalls are in gauges of eight in order to release only one pen of cows at a time when milking the smaller research groups. The parlor also has two return lanes so that cows in the groups at the end of the barns can get to and from the parlor without having to go through multiple other pens.

The second barn contains four, 72-cow pens housed in a tail-to-tail freestall arrangement. One section of the barn will be equipped with 34 electronic feed gates that will allow access by only two animals, creating virtual pens of two cows, within a larger freestall pen of 72. If a cow enters the incorrect feed gate, a pneumatic arm will swing up to shoo the cow away from the gate, Armentano explained. Researchers will be able to monitor feed intakes on individual cows with this system.

The existing feed handling system will continue to be used with the new facility. Feed is stored in bunker silos and in bags on a concrete pad.

Peters works with his staff at the farm to accommodate multiple research needs and multiple dairying systems, all while meeting multiple accreditations.

The dairy herd itself is responding positively to the new facilities. Milk production went up 5 pounds per cow per day after the cows got settled in.

“Happy cows no longer live in California,” said Pagel. “Happy cows now live on Badger Lane.”

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