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The 500-cow dairy that opened in 2008 at Arlington was the second phase of the UW-Madison Integrated Dairy Project.

The 500-cow dairy that opened in 2008 at Arlington was the second phase of the UW-Madison Integrated Dairy Project. Photo By John Oncken

UW-Madison Dairy Cattle Center getting a new, improved look

Sept. 20, 2012 | 0 comments

The University of Wisconsin-Madison Dairy Cattle Center is located on the Ag campus just a block from the Babcock Hall dairy plant.

The center has housed a herd of dairy cows and exposed hundreds of Dairy Science students to dairy herd management, and now it looks like it has been through a war.

Windows are missing, the east end of the building has been knocked out and the area formerly holding tie stalls is mostly a hole in the ground awaiting a milking parlor, the six silos are gone and the area is strewn with boards, barricades and hurricane fencing.

No, the barn built in 1956 is not the victim of war or tornados, it is in the midst of a planned remodeling project that will result in a reconstructed, reconfigured and renewed dairy barn that will be enjoyed by cows and dairy science students and faculty.

There aren't many tie stall barns being built across dairyland these days - the free stall has taken over - but this one is rather unique in its purposes and location.

First of all, it doesn't exist primarily as a milk production facility like most every Wisconsin dairy barn, it's really a teaching facility for the U.W.'s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS) dairy science department and School of Veterinary Medicine.

Kent Weigel, Chair of the Department of Dairy Science says the location is just a block away from the Animal Science Building.

"We have about 120 students (80 under grads and 40 in advanced programs) in our department and over a hundred Farm and Industry Short Course students that use the facility," he says. "The herd will also be used by the School of Veterinary Medicine for research and hands on experience. "

Weigel also says that unlike past decades when most students were raised on dairy farms, times have changed and today's students may have little or no dairy cow experience. "This provides that opportunity," he says.

Mike Peters, Dairy Sciences herd administrator, who oversees the new 500-cow dairy facility at Arlington along with this on-campus dairy center led me on a tour of the 'building structure while pointing out "the was, the is and the will be's" of this heavily utilized dairy cattle center.

The many hundreds of dairy science students who spent class time, learned how to judge cows or worked part time here will remember the four-cow, side-opening milking parlor: It's gone and is now a big open space that will not be used until a need arises.

The former arena and teaching area where classes and judging sessions were held is now a mini dairy barn with 28 stalls and a barn cleaner.

Peters pointed out that the east wing of the one-story barn that formerly held tie stalls (and cows) is now a big hole in the dirt floor awaiting the planned Double six herringbone parlor (being donated by Madison-based BouMatic) and a partially built cow return lane. The space will also contain a cow holding area.

A new arena and teaching area will replace the former feed room connected to the east wing.

The west wing of the dairy cattle center is getting close to completion with 60 tie stalls in place and concrete soon to be poured in the central aisle.

Yet to come in the cow housing areas are Berg barn cleaners and the new Pasture Gel Mats (being donated by Promat, Inc. of Woodstock, Ontario) in each stall.

Field Silo and Equipment at Mount Horeb is in charge of installing the agricultural equipment in the remodeling process. "We'll do the silo unloaders, barn cleaners, mats, stalls, ventilation and water," Brian Peterson says. "Of course, BouMatic will install the milking parlor."

Also coming soon are two 18- by 60-foot poured concrete silos that will be erected by Wisconsin Silo at Plover. They replace the six silos (three at each end of the barn) that have been removed.

After the dairy barn portion of the remodeling is completed, hopefully by year end, the class rooms, laboratory and lecture hall on the top floor of the dairy center will be updated.

The dairy cows that were housed here were moved to Arlington during construction as were the cows from the School of Veterinary Medicine's Leland Allenstein herd formerly housed at the Charmany Farm in West Madison.

"This is the final step in the long-term Integrated Dairy Project the University has been involved in for many years," Weigel explains. "Phase I was the heifer facility at the Marshfield Research Station, Phase II was the new dairy barn at Arlington and this is Phase III. Dairy operations at all three locations are run as one unit. "

The budget of $3 million for the remodeling would indeed build a mighty big dairy barn in rural Wisconsin, but the differences between a barn on a Wisconsin farm and this one are many and great.

The U.W. Dairy Cattle Center is located on a plot of ground not much bigger than a lawn in a suburban housing area. It's crowded between three historic structures: the Stock Pavilion, the 1898 Dairy Barn and the old Horse Barn, all over 100 years old.

Of course the barn could have been built elsewhere on the big Madison Campus in 1956, but the reason for its location on such a cramped site came down to location near the classrooms and students in the dairy science program.

The UW-Madison is one of the few major universities that retains a teaching barn on a campus, in a city, thereby being accessible to students without a long bus ride or seldom visiting an operating dairy herd. "This allows us to do more hands-on teaching," Weigel says.

Unlike a farmstead dairy barn, this is a public building utilized by hundreds of students daily and host to an expanding number of visitors. "It is handicap and family accessible," Peters says. "An elevator to the upper floor classrooms to be located next to the entrance is a new addition to the building."

When all is said and done and the cows return to the barn they will notice some changes.

First and foremost, the stalls are wider and longer. A 1956 stall and a 2012 stall are different as cows have grown in size and stanchions are no longer the standard in new construction.

The barn configuration aims at healthier animals, no more sharp turns and steps to navigate as before.

Better ventilation and increased air flow will make for increased cow comfort as will the installation of the gel mats.

Without doubt the result will be happier cows, happier students who will find better conditions in which to work with and learn from the cows and a happier faculty who have spent years (decades?) in getting the dairy project started - and completed.

Dr. Lou Armentano says, "it's been a long time in the works with many challenges."

Former Dean of CALS, Molly Jahn agrees. "It was a priority during my tenure - I'm so pleased that it's finally getting done. "

I suspect the cows in the Lee Allenstein herd who will live there, can't wait to get back.

John F. Oncken is owner of Oncken Communications, a Madison-based agricultural information and consulting company. He can be reached at 608-222-0624 or e-mail him at jfodairy@chorus.net.

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