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Pasture-based dairy and livestock farm business course available online

Would-be farmers can now learn about pasture-based production and business management without leaving home. The Wisconsin School for Beginning Dairy and Livestock Farmers (WSBDF), the first course of its kind, is now available online.

“For several years now, we have been asked by folks across the country about the possibility of our course becoming accessible online, and today it is a reality. This is deeply meaningful for me,” said Richard Cates, director of the WSBDF.

The WSBDF, which is going into its 22nd year, is a cooperative effort of the Center for Integrated Agricultural Systems and Farm and Industry Short Course at the UW-Madison College of Agricultural and Life Sciences.

Sarah Joe and Mitchell Mumm - 2016
Sarah and Joe Mumm (with son Mitchell) are dairy farmers and speakers in the Wisconsin School for Beginning Dairy and Livestock Farmers. Sarah completed the WSBDF program in 2004. Photo courtesy of WSBDF.

The online course offers the same curriculum as the WSBDF pasture-based dairy and livestock seminar offered on-campus, and at distance learning sites. Online learning lets students enroll at any time and take the course from any location, at their own pace.

Participants have access to live recordings of WSBDF lectures addressing a wide range of topics including business planning, farm selection and setup, parlor design, livestock health, organic production and principles, marketing, soil nutrient management, and much more. The full course outline is available at

While the course emphasizes dairy and beef production, goat and sheep production are also covered.

Each topic included in the course features one or more speakers, as well as additional readings and resources. The WSBDF emphasizes learning from experienced dairy and livestock farmers, some of whom are WSBDF graduates. Other course presenters include UW-Madison faculty, Extension agents, financial consultants, farm lenders, state and federal agency representatives, and small business owners.

Students who complete three exams and submit a business plan will receive a certificate of course completion. The online seminar includes tools and templates to help participants prepare their own business plans, and the $300 fee includes personalized input and feedback on these plans from course instructors.

Cates is optimistic that the online course will catalyze the success of the WSBDF by helping many more aspiring farmers reap the environmental, economic and quality of life benefits of well-managed dairy and livestock agriculture. “For more than twenty years, the WSBDF has trained the next generation of farmers—over 500 students. It makes me very happy to be able to share this experience with would-be farmers anywhere on planet Earth.”

For more information and course registration, visit The course is available for groups and organizations; please contact Dick Cates at or 608-265-6437 for details.