Interest drives new dairy science major at UW-Platteville

By MaryBeth Matzek
MAA Editor

At a time when some colleges are cutting back on ag-related programs due to fiscal concerns, the University of Wisconsin-Platteville is doing just the opposite. Located in southwest Wisconsin, the university is strengthening its ag-related programs, including creating a dairy science major.

“For more than 100 years, we have had a hands-on ag program, but nothing specifically with the name ‘dairy’ on it,” said Tera Montgomery, associate professor of dairy and animal science in the UW-Platteville School of Agriculture and the animal science program coordinator.  “We had dairy-related classes in our animal sciences area, but employers were looking for students who had the word ‘dairy’ in their degree.”

To meet the needs of the industry and students, Montgomery said the university created a dairy science major and developed specific classes for it, such as one on dairy recordkeeping.

When the program debuted last fall, new freshmen were allowed to enroll in the program while students in other majors were also given the opportunity to transfer in. In its first year, there were 60 students in the major, which Montgomery called a solid start. The number of students in the university’s dairy club also increased.

In Wisconsin, agriculture contributes $88.3 billion annually to the state’s economy, with dairy products being the largest sector. The Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development predicts a steady increase in employment in all agriculture sectors – with the greatest growth occurring in food production, of which dairy is a critical component. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates there will be 5 percent increase in available career positions in animal and food science – categories that include dairy science – through 2022.

The program also provides classes related to how to make cheese and yogurt. “We also address the processing side of the industry – not just the farm side,” Montgomery said.

The dairy science program includes a number of hands-on learning experiences for students, especially with the new Adopt-a-Heifer program. When students enter the program, they are assigned an animal to follow throughout the course of their schooling. They are responsible for understanding what vaccinations are given, tracking colostrum levels and more. Students will also have the opportunity to make recommendations for decisions on the heifer, such as decisions about breeding. They will then put the recommendations in a presentation form, though the ultimate decision will still rest with the dairy enterprise manager at Pioneer Farm, the college’s working farm.

Montgomery said the farm is a huge asset to the program.

“We get some students who come to our program and haven’t lived or worked on a farm before so our working farm provides them with an opportunity to get that hands-on experience,” she said.

Some students combine the new dairy science major with one in agribusiness as a way to make them more attractive to businesses, Montgomery said. “So far, we have received great feedback from students,” she said. “We work hard to be responsive to the dairy business.”