Dairy research at the West Central Research and Outreach Center (WCROC) contributes to the development of successful dairy production practices including livestock health, nutrition, and reproduction. As the first land grant institution in the Midwest to develop an organic dairy herd dedicated to research and education, the WCROC is the only university-sanctioned operation to raise conventional and organic dairy herds side-by-side. We have 120 cattle in our organic herd and 140 cattle in our conventional herd. We milk anywhere from 200 to 280 cows, twice daily.
Research is conducted in livestock barns and grazing pastures in collaboration with the Department of Animal Science. Dairy science research findings and project outcomes are shared with U of Minn. Extension, and are made available on the U of Minn. Extension website.
Nutrition, health and best herd-management practices for improved herd efficiency remains a primary focus area in our research. We also study crossbreeding systems to determine which breeds offer greater milk longevity and overall improved health, all with the aim of enhancing dairy production. Our dairy herd consists of Holstein crosses that incorporate European genetics (Montebeliarde, Swedish Red and Normande) in order to enhance grazing capabilities.
Each year, the WCROC welcomes the addition of nearly 100 dairy calves to our farm. Calves are part of on-going studies to evaluate growth, health, and the economic performance of dairy calves. Projects include group feeding, using an automated feeder, and disbudding. Learn more.
Organic Dairy Systems
Organic dairy production research at the WCROC aims to help producers and farmers transition from conventional to organic herds, as well as to provide herd management strategies for existing organic dairy producers. We hope to mitigate challenges and provide practical, innovative solutions for those raising organic dairy herds. The organic dairy herd at the WCROC is home to one of only two certified organic dairy farms at land-grant research universities in the United States.
Precision dairy technology allows us more insight into individual and group behavior, as well as eating habits and physiological indicators. At the WCROC, we have tags for all 230 of our lactating dairy cows. We are observing activity and rumination of cows on pasture an in winter housing systems to evaluate fertility and health of grazing cattle. With the data provided from the various tags, we are able to track the activity and rumination levels in our herd. Learn more.
The agricultural industry consumes an immense amount of fossil-fuel in the production of food, feed, fiber, and energy. From the electricity that cools milk, to the fuel that is burned in combines and tractors in grain fields, to the trucks that bring goods to market, and to the nitrogen fertilizer that nourishes plants; the agricultural industry is captive to large and constant supplies of a wide range of fossil energy. Agriculture’s dependence and thirst for fossil-fuel carries significant economic, environmental, and social risks for the nation and world. Agrivoltaics is one way producers might be able to become less dependent on fossil fuels, lower production costs, increase land efficiency, improve forages and crops for use by dairy cattle, and increase milk production and health in dairy cows. The WCROC uses ground-mounted PV systems to provide shade to dairy cows as a model of agrivoltaics. Read more.