Built in the 1950s, the Dairy Cattle Center has been an important facility on the UW-Madison College of Agriculture and Life Sciences Campus (CALS) for teaching and research. As times change, so does the need to upgrade facilities to better suit the cows.
The Dairy Cattle Center renovation started last May and will be officially showcased March 9. Prior to the change, about 80 cows were housed in tight freestalls with low ventilation. Cows were milked in a single-four side-opening parlor.
“From 1956 to 2013, the way we handle our cows and the size of our cows has changed. We really needed to update our facility. We can’t do research and educate tomorrow’s dairy leaders with 1956 facilities,” says Mike Peters, dairy herd administrator.
“UW-Madison is extremely unique in the fact that a professor can be lecturing and within two minutes we can have students out of the lecture hall and in contact with cows,” Peters says. “We are really proud of that. It’s import for the department and CALS to retain his facility downtown.”
With this in mind, cow comfort was the main goal of the changes that would take place in the Dairy Cattle Center. “Stalls are now the correct size for modern Holsteins. We have fewer hock lesions, knees don’t bang on curbs and chains are the proper length. We did a lot of work with the School of Veterinary Medicine and a Biological Systems Engineering group to make sure the stalls were sized correctly to meet our research and teaching needs and cow comfort needs.” Peters says. Stalls now have donated Promat gel mats for added cow comfort when standing or laying.
In addition to setting up better stall spacing, what was just one barn has now become essentially two barns to give visitors a better experience in the way they enter the building and to keep research areas separate, he adds. In the change, stalling was designed to be closer to the feeding area, since mixing is done in one area. Peters says by moving cows closer to where the feed is, labor will be more efficient.
“When we engaged in the project, the big thing we were looking to do was to ensure cow comfort from a stall laying stand point and from a ventilation stand point,” says Peters. “We couldn’t do research in the barn effectively and in the summer months it was unbearable for heat. Now it has enhanced water-chilled ventilation, the air exchange is improved. We are now hoping to use the facility 12 months a year, like we need to be able to.”
The single-four side-opening parlor originally faced the glass front of the building but has been pushed back into the building to open up the front area for a visitor welcome area. To replace the old parlor, BouMatic donated a new double-six herringbone parlor, making milking more efficient and cow friendly. Now, cows don’t have to climb stairs to enter the parlor or deal with 90-degree turns. The parlor pit was widened so more people can occupy it during milking or for classes that focus on milk quality, procedures and machine evaluation.
The parlor platform has been lined with rubber mats from AniMat to reduce stress on joints while standing in the parlor. Peters says the new parlor will cut down milking time by about an hour and a half. Along with the new parlor came a new holding area better suited to moving cows through a parlor, improved footing, and box stalls for cows needing special attention.
The old parlor area and front entrance will be converted to a welcome area for tours and visitors. “PDPW (Professional Dairy Producers of Wisconsin) has partnered with us to help us put together materials for the visitors’ experience and people that will come into the facility. For the metro Madison area, we’re the vision of the dairy industry that a lot of people see,” Peters says. “We think it’s really important to get the right message out. I’m thankful for PDPW’s input in ensuring that we give visitors the right experience.”
As a primary building for dairy education, having a classroom for labs is a highly valued piece of the renovations. A vacant feed shed was transformed into a new teaching area that is cleaner, has better lighting and is more instructor friendly, Peters notes. The new area will give teachers more leeway in their ability to set up different labs, like calf labs or judging class. The area also has been set up with a WiFi connection, giving students the ability to access course material through the Internet.
The changes made on the building will give university veterinary students a modern dairy facility to work in that is near their own building. Large dairy management labs will still take place at the Arlington facility, but more hands-on labs and courses will continue to be held at the Dairy Cattle Center.
At capacity, the Dairy Cattle Center will continue to milk about 80 cows on campus. Three people manage the herd and eight to 10 students work at the facility with jobs ranging from milking to basic animal care.
The $3.5 million investment has not only enhanced cow comfort and ability to educate and conduct research; the building is completely accessible to the disabled or visitors with strollers with the addition of an elevator. Storm water retention was another area addressed, so no waste or water from the cow yard makes it to Lake Mendota.
Visitors will be able to view the renovated facility on March 9, from 9 to 11:30 a.m. “This will be our opportunity to welcome the public in to see the great things we have done. It is an open house so people can walk around and see what has changed,” Peters says. The Dairy Cattle Center open house is held in conjunction with the 16th Annual Badger Invitational Sale, hosted by Badger Dairy Club. The sale is scheduled to start at noon in the Stock Pavilion at 1675 Linden Drive. The Dairy Cattle Center is located at 1815 West Linden Drive.