New Dairy Education Center expands horizons for dairy students
Less than two hours away from the University of Minnesota College of Veterinary Medicine is a city of learning for dairy students.
Established at the new Davis Family Dairies, LLC, dairy farm in New Sweden, Minnesota, the Dairy Education Center integrates various academic and educational functions into a large-scale commercial dairy.
The dairy facility houses more than 4,000 cows in addition to 3,000 milking cows at Northern Plains Dairy, LLP, another dairy owned by Davis Family Dairies. Together, the two dairies employ 75 people. The New Sweden site serves as a birthing center for more than 6,000 calves per year and milks 3,000 cows daily. It also includes dormitory facilities, classrooms, and teaching laboratories. From the outside, the complex is dwarfed by the miles of farmland surrounding it. But inside the facility, the immense scale of the operation and the educational opportunity for dairy students becomes apparent.
Standing among a row of cows stretching almost as far as the eye can see, dairy production expert and College of Veterinary Medicine (CVM) professor John Fetrow describes the scope of the Dairy Education Center.
"Imagine a city of 6,000 people,” he says. “Somebody gets sick every day, and the doctor sees somebody every day. That’s essentially what we’re doing here. We’re acting like a doctor with students in a teaching environment on this 6,000-cow city to look at anybody who happens to be ill, however they get ill. It’s great clinical training.”
CVM Dean Trevor Ames echoes Fetrow, commenting that the facility may change the landscape of how veterinary medicine is taught.
“We’re thrilled to be able to offer our students this wonderful and unique opportunity to learn and conduct research at a state-of-the-art dairy facility,” Ames says. “Our goal is for the center to serve as a national center for veterinary education and research.”
While the Dairy Education Center officially opened in September 2009, the affiliation between Davis Family Dairies and the College of Veterinary Medicine began in September 2007, when they announced their intention to design, construct, and operate the new facility.
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"Davis Family Dairies is proud and humbled to have our New Sweden Dairy be the impetus of such a wonderful opportunity to collaborate with the University of Minnesota College of Veterinary Medicine and the founding donors in establishing the Dairy Education Center at New Sweden Dairy,” says Mitch Davis, general manager of Davis Family Dairies. “We believe these efforts will enhance the knowledge of current and future veterinarians as well as industry stakeholders from the United States and around the world. These efforts will also contribute to the body of the research in the industry.”
Dairy Education Center rotations have been offered to CVM students and other students from across the nation since mid-July. The two-week rotation provides students the opportunity to live, work, and learn on this sophisticated dairy farm.
Students on both the clinical and reproductive rotations have the opportunity to gain firsthand experience by working with the 6,000 cows on the facility. Here, the theoretical and practical meld together in one location.
“A lot of people say that if you want to learn a language, you should be immersed in the culture,” says fourth-year student Jonathan Hart. “This is sort of an immersion. We live here, we stay here all the time, and that allows us to see all the aspects that go on really at all times of day.”
For students, the sheer volume of activity provides a unique learning opportunity.
“We can pretty much count on seeing the routine problems that cows have, and we know we can treat them adequately here.” Fetrow explains. “There is no other place that has this scale of activity, this number of cows, the size of this city. On-site dormitory facilities, classroom facilities, and laboratory facilities really make it ideal for teaching.”
This one-of-a-kind educational opportunity is possible because of the public-private partnership that the CVM has with Davis Family Farms. The partnership is very cost-effective because the CVM only paid for about 5 percent of the total cost of the facility by building classrooms, dormitories, laboratories, and other academic units.
“Taxpayers and the state did not have to pay to build the dairy or buy the cows, and the University doesn’t pay to feed the cows or any of the costs of operating the center,” says Fetrow. “But they still get all the academic advantages. Davis Family Farms gains by having us here in terms of improving the way the dairy runs. We pay attention; we know what we’re doing on dairies. We work to improve the management of the dairy and enhance productivity.”
Fetrow hopes that, in the future, the Dairy Education Center will be able to acquire federal funding to allow students from across the country to come to the center, further expanding the partnership with Davis Family Farms.
See a video about the Dairy Education Center