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Heifer facility opens at Marshfield Agricultural Research Station

Wisconsin”s dairy industry is in the midst of major restructuring, brought on by changes in national and international competition, new federal marketing and pricing programs, and challenges of mature production and processing infrastructures. If the state”s dairy industry is to prosper and expand, it must find new ways to produce milk at prices competitive with other regions of the country and the world, and do that while protecting environmental quality and enhancing agriculture”s natural-resource base.

Milk comes from cows, and cows start out as heifers. The recently opened heifer facility at the Marshfield Agricultural Research Station will greatly expand and improve heifer research opportunities for University of Wisconsin-Madison dairy scientists. The new unit, which is designed to house 320 heifers ages 2 months to 23 months, currently houses about 160 year-old and younger animals from the Madison/Arlington and Marshfield herds.

Until now, the lack of facilities has limited UW-Madison heifer research. This has hurt Wisconsin dairy producers, since the costs and success of raising calves and heifers substantially impacts the economic success of any dairy herd. How young stock are housed, managed, fed and bred greatly affects their performance once they reach the milking herd.

Until now, the lack of facilities has limited UW-Madison heifer research. This has hurt Wisconsin dairy producers, since the costs and success of raising calves and heifers substantially impacts the economic success of any dairy herd. How young stock are housed, managed, fed and bred greatly affects their performance once they reach the milking herd.
Three major heifer research projects are underway at the new facility, with many more planned. UW-Madison Extension dairy geneticist Kent Weigel is conducting a crossbreeding project, looking for the genes that influence health, fertility, calving ease and milk production in Holstein X Jersey crossbreds. UW-Madison dairy physiologist Milo Wiltbank is looking at how delaying puberty with hormones affects udder development and milk production. Pat Hoffman, Extension dairy nutritionist at the Marshfield station, is studying ways of reducing nitrogen and phosphorus excretion in heifer feeding operations.

The heifer facility is phase one of the two-part Integrated Dairy Facilities Program, which is providing new facilities to improve research into milk cow nutrition, reproductive performance, animal health, housing, feeding and milking system research. The program will allow UW-Madison dairy scientists to study the dairy herd as an integrated unit, stretching from birth of calves to management of milking cattle.

In Phase II, the USDA will construct and own new facilities at the Marshfield Station, including a new laboratory and administrative facility, barns, a milking parlor, feeding and animal health care facilities, and supporting infrastructure elements.E The USDA”s investment in these facilities will total about $15 million, and will provide an annual operating budget of about $4.5 million to support USDA and UW-Madison scientists.E Senator Herb Kohl was instrumental in arranging this federal funding. All facilities will be jointly managed and used by the USDA and the UW-Madison.

UW-Madison dairy scientists have worked with outmoded, undersized and overcrowded dairy-cattle research facilities. With fewer cattle, reliable research results took longer to obtain. The limited herd size also forced research to consist primarily of short-term trials. While trials of this type are essential in developing new concepts and testing novel ideas, they do not provide data that lead quickly to sound new practices or adequate economic information. By 2007, researchers hope to have 600 heifers and 128 milking cows at Marshfield, and 500 milking and dry cows at Arlington/Madison.

Dairy herds at Arlington/Madison and Marshfield will be managed as a single herd, with mature milking cows at Arlington/Madison, and heifers and first-lactation animals at Marshfield. Animals will be moved between sites as research and instructional programs require. The rearing of young stock at locations separate from the milking herd is increasingly common among Wisconsin dairy operations.
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Some Facts:
Wisconsin”s dairy industry accounts for about 174,000 jobs and $18.5 billion in industrial sales.
Wisconsin dairy heifer producers annually spend $850 million raising 1.3 million dairy heifers.
300+ stand-alone heifer rearing businesses exist in Wisconsin and contribute $90 million/year to the state”s economy.
Reducing the age of first calving by one month would save Wisconsin dairy operations $40 million annually.
Increasing dietary phosphorus utilization in dairy heifers by 10% would remove 2,000 tons of phosphorus from our environment each year.
Increasing first lactation milk production 10% via improved heifer rearing programs would increase Wisconsin milk sales by $102 million.

Funding for the Integrated Dairy Facilities Program
Phase I at Marshfield — $1,920,000 ($900,000 General Fund Supported Borrowing and $900,000 Gifts/Grants, $120,000 CALS funds)

Phase II at Marshfield and Arlington — $23,268,000 ($4,834,000 General Fund Supported Borrowing, $3,434,000 Gifts/Grants and $15,000,000 federal funds

A state investment of $5,734,000 has leveraged $4,454,000 in private funds and $15,000,000 in federal funding. Senator Herb Kohl was instrumental in arranging the federal funding.
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