LSU Dairy

A calf at the campus dairy. (Credit: Olivia McClure)
A calf at the campus dairy. (Credit: Olivia McClure)
Ice cream in front of the LSU Dairy Store. (Credit: Olivia McClure)
Ice cream in front of the LSU Dairy Store. (Credit: Olivia McClure)

By Olivia McClure | LSU Student

The LSU AgCenter and the University's separate dairy programs will consolidate, causing some operations at the campus dairy farm on Gourrier Avenue in Baton Rouge to scale down and move to the AgCenter's Southeast Research Station in Franklinton, La.

Phil Elzer, AgCenter associate vice chancellor and program leader for animal sciences, said there is a need to expand dairy teaching and research, but the campus dairy is landlocked. Most dairy research will be transferred to Southeast, which will require moving the 90 milk cows currently at the campus dairy to the station in the next few months, he said.

The herd at Southeast, which produces the milk used in ice cream and other products at the Dairy Store, will grow to about 300 cows, Elzer said. The campus dairy will maintain a small herd of cows and stay open for teaching.

Elzer said the idea behind consolidating is to have "one dairy in two locations," meaning there will be one dairy program whose teaching element will take place primarily at the campus dairy. Consolidating research to Southeast will prevent splitting resources between two locations, one of which cannot expand, he said.

"The true dairy science student is going to have more opportunities with this large dairy operation than they would in a small one," Elzer said.

Some courses are currently offered only one semester per year because milk cows have to "dry out" — but a larger herd would permit rotational lactation and the ability to offer those courses year-round, Elzer said. Faculty and graduate students will have more cows to use in research, making replication of studies easier, he said.

But without milk cows at the campus dairy, students will no longer have class labs in the milk parlor or do projects involving lactating cows unless they travel to Southeast, according to dairy science professor Cathy Williams.

Williams said three courses use the campus dairy farm for their lab component, which gives students important hands-on experience and the ability to routinely observe cows.

"We teach them about it in class or show pictures or videos, but to actually be able to come out and put the ear tag in the calf's ear, feed it colostrum or actually milk the cow and see how it all works puts it into a better perspective," Williams said.

The cows are milked twice a day — at 3 a.m. and 3 p.m. — with undergraduates handling the afternoon milking. Some students also have jobs at the farm doing chores and caring for the animals.

Williams said calves are taken away from their mothers the day they are born, so students "are their mamas" instead. That kind of experience is invaluable to many students who grew up in urban areas and would never otherwise get to interact with cows, she said.

Franklinton is a less-than-two hour drive away from Baton Rouge, but the dairy teaching program will have to adapt to having such a distance between its lab — the dairy farm — and classrooms. Field trips to Southeast are relatively easy to make, though, because dairy science classes are fairly small, Williams said.

Gary Hay, director of the School of Animal Sciences, said the consolidation will bring students closer to the AgCenter's research and extension efforts. Southeast is located in the Florida parishes, where Louisiana's dairy industry is concentrated, which offers students a chance to interact with producers at extension field days and producer meetings, he said.

Hay said the Dairy Store may also benefit from increased milk production at Southeast. More products may be offered at the store and they may be served at more LSU Dining locations on campus.

There has been a working dairy farm on campus since 1904, when the original farm was located next to Swine Palace, Hay said. The dairy moved to Gourrier Avenue in 1955 and over time has become surrounded by University developments including a golf course and the new Alex Box Stadium, he said.

Elzer said the Southeast Research Station is only 12 years old and is situated on 850 acres of land in the heart of Louisiana's dairy producing region.

The AgCenter operated three dairies until 2006, when the dairy at Hill Farm in Homer in north Louisiana closed because there were few producers left in the area, Elzer said.

Hay said the number of dairy producers in Louisiana has declined by 80 percent in the last 20 years because prices have not gone up as fast as costs and dairy-producing areas such as the Florida parishes have urbanized significantly. He said a dairy science degree is still valuable, though, because dairy and other livestock industries are growing in states such as California, Texas and New York, making the real-world experience students gain from a dairy farm critical.