A day at the dairy
By KRISS NELSON
AMES – The Iowa State University Dairy Farm welcomed hundreds of visitors on June 14, giving them a tour of the entire facility from the milking parlor, heifer barn, dry cow/transition barn and beyond.
Hugo Ramirez, assistant professor in the animal science department at ISU, with responsibilities in dairy extension, research and teaching, said the annual ISU dairy open house is not only held in conjunction with Dairy Month being celebrated in June, but as a chance to help raise awareness on the dairy industry.
“It’s an opportunity for us to share what we do with taxpayer’s money,” he said. “We are fulfilling the land grant mission of extension research and teaching and this is one opportunity the public has to come here and see what we do with their contributions of their tax money and how we use that money to further improve agriculture in our state and the nation.”
With more of our state’s population removed from the farm, Ramirez said visitors to the ISU Dairy Farm oftentimes receive an eye-opening experience.
“They come to see where the cow lives, how they eat, how they are treated, where the milk comes from and where milk goes to,” he said. “That process is fascinating for many of them to learn because we usually just go to the grocery store and we grab a gallon or a carton of milk and we don’t know exactly how that milk was produced and there is a lot of misinformation out there.”
“For those unfamiliar with the process, they come and see it and it actually gets their attention and they see the true side of the story. They get to witness it and experience it themselves.”
The tour began in the farm’s milking center, which features a classroom and laboratory as well as a full view of the milking parlor. The guests are then taken to the bulk milk holding rooms before they hop on a trailer and see the rest of the farm.
“They get to see the cows; where they live, how they are fed,” Ramirez said. “When they come to the milking parlor, how we get the milk and how the milk is stored on the farm. They see the different stages from very young animals to adult animals.”
The final stage of the tour featured a station with crafts and games that provided learning opportunities from other agricultural commodities, the chance to pet a dairy calf and to enjoy dairy treats including milk, ice cream and ice cream sandwiches.
But there is more to the ISU Dairy Farm than their annual open house.
“We are very fortunate that we have a body of faculty that work and do their research here in different areas,” Ramirez said.
Research being done at the farm includes genetics, nutrition, colostrum/milk quality for calves and animal pain management.
Ramirez said one professor is researching how cows react to heat stress.
“Summer is upon us and that is the time cows aren’t eating as much as they normally do,” Ramirez said. “They adapt that behavior and all of that has implications on milk production and helps us understand what we have to do to keep that cow healthy and productive through the summer months.”
Research being done in the milking parlor involves using two different sanitizing solutions.
“Those sanitizing solutions are also moisturizing solutions,” he said. “We have to make sure cows have healthy skin on their udders to they are productive and comfortable.”
Ramirez’s current research revolves around probiotics for the dairy cattle.
“You hear people taking probiotics to be healthy,” he said. “We are using that same technology to dairy cows by trying to feed them different probiotics.”
The ISU Dairy Farm offers a lot to students at the university, he added. Not only learning opportunities, but it also opens up employment options for students to come to work at the farm.
“We have classes at every single level from freshmen to senior that come and do activities on the dairy farm and then dairy science students. They get more classes here on the farm,” he said. More labs to do and hands on stuff.”
Ramirez said, with more than 300 cows, “it’s a very, very unique farm in the nation.”
“Many other universities will have a dairy farm, but they are probably a third of the size, if not smaller. The fact that we have so many cows here allows us to maximize our research to obtain full benefit.”
Work done at the ISU Dairy Farm goes beyond assisting Iowa’s dairy producers.
“We have worldwide recognition for the work that we do here,” he said. “We have faculty members that go to different parts of the world to share what it is we have discovered here. Those discoveries don’t only apply to dairy farms in our state, but apply throughout the world and thanks to our productive students we have. They are the ones that carry out the research. We are able to put the Iowa State name all throughout the world to be recognized.”
Ramirez encourages those interested in learning more about the ISU Dairy Farm and the dairy industry to reach out to them.
“Contact our faculty members. Information is available on our website,” he said. “We are always willing to listen, take comments and answer any questions the public may have. We are a source of information not only for dairy farmers, but to anyone that is seeking information.”
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