Dairy science students at the University of Wisconsin-Madison will see more wear and tear on the soles of their boots and less on the seats of their pants, thanks to curriculum changes aimed to help students build their technical and analytical skills.

One change was the addition of a new course, Reproduction Management of Dairy Cattle, taught by reproductive physiologist Milo Wiltbank.

“Reproduction has a great deal of economic impact on dairy herds. We are finding more and more dairy herds with reproductive problems that are seriously affecting their bottom-line profitability,” noted Wiltbank.

“Our students want to learn the skills and expertise they’ll need to help producers optimize their reproductive performance as part of an overall program to enhance farm profitability,” he explains.

Students in the class get one hour per week of classroom discussion and another 2.5 hours of hands-on instruction in reproductive management techniques for dairy herds.  Over the semester they master artificial insemination, reproductive management protocol implementation, and ultrasound.

“This class is really practical,” says Evan Schnadt, a sophomore who took the class last spring. I’m actually doing AI and ET work and I’m looking forward to developing a reproduction program with Dairy Comp 305.”

“No other school offers this kind of opportunity,” he says.

The technologies and protocols the students learn in the reproduction class serve them well when they undertake their senior capstone project, which requires them to evaluate and troubleshoot management procedures on a commercial dairy farm.

“I am using protocols I learned in class to help my (client) farmer improve his herd reproduction,” says Eliza Ulness, a senior in dairy science. “Because I’ve used these protocols in class, I can more easily answer his questions or explain what is happening to his cow.”

The department has also restructured its Dairy Herd Management class. The class is now taught in seven modules, each taught by a different instructor. The course taps the expertise of instructors with a commercial dairy experience, including the department’s own extension dairy team as well as industry professionals.

The modular format is broken into seven areas: records management, nutrition management, economic benchmarking, calf and heifer management, reproductive management, milk quality and dairy facilities.  Each area lasts approximately two weeks, and is geared toward providing students with exposure to best management practices and industry benchmarks. The class has incorporated several on-farm labs that focus on the management area being studied.

“The thing I like the most about the class is that we have new instructors every two weeks or so. They are experts in their areas, so we are getting the best of the best, and it keeps the class fresh and interesting,” said sophomore Laura Bahn.

One of those experts is Randy Shaver, UW-Madison extension nutrition specialist, who taught the module on dairy nutrition management.

"The modular format provided those of us in the dairy extension group a great opportunity to relate our expertise to the students in the practical context of dairy herd management using a combination of on- farm diagnostics, computer applications, lectures and group discussions," says Shaver.

The dairy science curriculum changes aim to broaden the potential of the department’s future graduates.  By giving its classes more of an applied focus, the department is successfully engaging students in learning that will prepare them for their futures in the dairy industry.

“Companies interviewing on campus are telling us they want college graduates to understand and be able to use analytical software like Dairy Comp 305, so we start the semester with four weeks of production records training centered on that program,” explains said Ted Halbach, the course coordinator for the dairy herd  management class.  Most of modules that follow also make use of that software to pull data and make management decisions — just like our graduates will be expected to do in their dairy careers.

Universityof Wisconsin