How Penn State Dairy Barns are helping bridge the gap between food producers and consumers

In today’s world, there is a growing gap between the people who produce the world’s food and the consumer. Many consumers have no idea where their food comes from or how it is produced.

The Penn State Dairy Barns, operated by the College of Agricultural Sciences, helps bridge this gap by educating college students about dairy management and offering tours to many outside groups interested in learning more about dairy farming. dairy farming.

In addition, the facilities are used to conduct research to better understand the relationships between dairy cow performance, management, nutrition, behavior, and environment. Information from these studies is then disseminated to farmers through Penn State Extension for the benefit of dairy farm management throughout Pennsylvania.

The Dairy Research and Education Center maintains a herd of 240 lactating Holstein dairy cows. The total herd size is approximately 475 animals, including calves, growing heifers, and dry cows. On average, dairy cows produce about 10 gallons of milk per day per cow. Milk from the dairy is used by Penn State’s Berkey Creamery, and the excess is shipped to Land O’ Lakes.

The dairy employs a team of 10 full-time employees and approximately 20 undergraduate students each semester. These employees are the backbone of the operation and keep things running 16 hours a day, 365 days a year.

Our student employees come from many different types of experience levels and backgrounds. They can gain experience in animal handling, milking, calf care and feeding, animal health, and equipment operation. Some students grew up on a family farm and others have never touched a cow before. Working in the dairy is an asset to any CV as it requires working early mornings, late evenings, and in bad weather.

Caring for animals requires dedication and a strong work ethic. Many of our students work here to gain experience with large animals for veterinary school. A few students live in apartments on the dairy farm and trade their working hours for accommodation.

Prior to the COVID pandemic, dairy staff provided approximately 50-60 visits each year to a total of roughly 1,000 people. These include visits to supplement Animal Science, Food Science, Nutrient Management, Ice Cream Short Course, and Animal Welfare courses at the university. Many local elementary schools visit for field trips as well as high school science and agriculture classes from across the state. We are finally getting back to our pre-COVID levels of farm visits.

Research takes place on the farm all year round. Current studies are exploring several different areas. Milk fat, or the percentage of fat in milk, is integral to the profitability of a dairy farm. Researchers are conducting trials to see how we can modify our diet to maximize milk fat production without affecting milk production or health.

Methane production from agricultural production has been a growing environmental concern in recent years. Modifying diet to reduce the amount of methane produced by livestock has been the focus of research here. The addition of algae-derived products has been shown to be effective in reducing methane production in the cow’s rumen. Scientists also have trials looking at dairy cattle reproduction, nutrition, and gene expression that determine specific diseases and traits in dairy cattle.

Nadine Houck and Travis Edwards are co-managers of Penn State Dairy Barns. OLLI at Penn State, open to mature adults who like to learn, offers many types of classes. Nadine Houck will lead a tour of the Penn State Dairy Barns for OLLI this spring. For more information about OLLI’s summer and fall programming — created, organized, presented, and supported by OLLI volunteer members — visit OLLI at Penn State at or call 814-867-4278. Anyone with questions about the dairy farm or groups interested in tours can contact Houck at [email protected] or Edwards at [email protected].

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