UW-Madison Dairy Cattle Research & Instruction Center gets a makeover


By Kayla Jentz

The west wing of the Dairy Cattle Research and Instruction Center, BEFORE: Stanchions and smaller stalls, boxstalls and offices are replaced with larger stalls, gel-filled mattresses, evaporative cooling pads and tunnel ventilation to improve air flow and cow comfort.

The University of Wisconsin Madison’s 1950’s-era facility makes way for a new generation of cow comfort and student learning.

Having graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison two years ago, I expected to see changes when I visited the campus “Dairy Cattle Center” as we so fondly called it. However, I wasn’t prepared for the complete overhaul underway to upgrade the facility for both cows and students.

The original Dairy Cattle Research and Instruction Center (DCRIC) was built in 1956, according to Michael Peters, current herd manager for all UW dairy facilities. There were very few changes since, at least until this year’s $3 million renovation. 

The new facilities will house the same number of cattle, about 85, but major improvements have been made to improve cow comfort, efficiency and biosecurity.

Cow comfort and efficiency

The west wing of the Dairy Cattle Research and Instruction Center, AFTER

As you can imagine, stalls built in 1956, became less and less accommodating for larger cows over the decades, Peters said. The new stalls are 72 inches long and vary from 52 to 56 inches wide. All stalls in the new facility are gel-filled mattresses, donated by Promat. 

What former students may remember as the “teaching arena” has been converted to a 24-stall barn. The 56 stalls in the west end of the facility have been completely reconstructed.

The cows will be surrounded by evaporative cooling pads and “modern air exchange,” according to Peters. Offices and boxstalls in that part of the barn – which blocked air movement – have been eliminated allowing tunnel ventilation to run the entire length of the barn. 

A new milking center has taken over the east wing of the facility, replacing tie stalls. Boumatic donated a double-six herringbone parlor, equipped with auto takeoffs and RFID technology. With cows moving between the university’s campus and off-campus facilities at Arlington (a 500-cow facility) and Marshfield (the dairy heifer facility), the RFID tags eliminate the need to switch tags between sites. 

A new manure containment system and a single feed center, with two 18×60-foot poured concrete feed storage silos, add to efficiency.

Accessibility and biosecurity

“The DCRIC serves as a community outreach location. Many people’s first interaction with cows happens here, and with the changes we’ve made, we hope the overall experience has been enhanced,” said Peters. 

The new facility is American Disability Act compliant, accessible to visitors with strollers and wheelchairs. It has an elevator to the teaching labs on the second floor, and visitors have a room to put on boots to walk through the facility and wash their hands. Prior to the change, the visitors’ sink/wash area was right next to gates where cows were moving frequently to the parlor. 

Glass windows allow visitors to view parlor activities, including the front sides of cows and down into the pit.

With construction on schedule, Peters hopes to see cows milked on campus by mid-January. 

Parlor, BEFORE.

New teaching arena

One highlight of the upgrade is a new teaching arena, accessible without going through the dairy facility. Prior to the upgrade, visitors had to walk through the parlor lane to get to the teaching arena, and milkings were often disrupted. Now, busloads of visitors can be dropped off and walk directly into the teaching arena.


The arena also has a wash rack for students preparing cattle for shows or judging contests held on campus. It also has white PVC walls, creating better lighting conditions, Peters said.

Classes to continue

Parlor, AFTER.

Since the project started last June, when the campus herd was relocated to the Blaine Dairy Unit in Arlington, vet school and undergraduate students have been using the UW herd in Arlington or cattle brought on to campus specifically for teaching purposes. Upon completion, the DCRIC will still house the Allenstein dairy herd, a merger which brought the veterinary teaching herd back on campus in August 2011.

“While we use it for research, it is primarily a teaching barn,” said Kent Weigel, chair of the dairy science department. “Our dairy science undergraduates may go through it 30-40 times in a semester depending on what classes and labs they’re taking, and we typically have 85 or so undergrad students enrolled in our program.”

That’s not counting the vet students who will now be utilizing the facility as well. 

The completion of the project will mark the end of an effort to upgrade all of the university’s dairy cattle facilities. Earlier phases involved construction of a new 500-cow dairy cattle center at the Arlington Agricultural Research Station and a dairy heifer facility at the Marshfield Agricultural Research Station. University dairy scientists operate the three as a single, multi-site dairy operation. Cows used on campus for instruction and research are rotated in from the other two locations.

“Having a dairy herd in town is rather unique. I think it shows the importance of dairy science here,” Weigel said. “And having the cows on campus is a great recruiting tool. Students don’t have to travel off campus to take part in labs and live animal instruction.”

No matter how many students or visitors frequent the facility, the cows will be happy in their new, more accommodating home.

• To learn more about the UW-Madison Department of Dairy Science and it’s facilities, visit http://dysci.wisc.edu

• To view the UW-Madison College of Agriculture and Life Sciences flicker photos of the construction project, visit http://bit.ly/TKVK2c.