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Changes Ahead for UNL's Dairy Program

Changes Ahead for UNL's Dairy Program

Facility at ag research center in Mead will close due to new research focus.

The University of Nebraska-Lincoln is refocusing its dairy research, with plans to discontinue milking operations at antiquated facilities at the Agricultural Research and Development Center near Mead.

The move will modernize how dairy research and husbandry are taught, as UNL will establish new capabilities on the Lincoln campus and partner with local dairy operators for hands-on learning in modern facilities, says Larry Berger, head of UNL's Department of Animal Science.

The move is driven partly by budget concerns, as the facility at the ARDC, if it's to continue, would require several million dollars in renovation, he adds.

The shift also is intended to more closely integrate UNL's dairy research with other Agricultural Research Division life sciences research priorities, including cattle nutrition and the Gut Function Initiative, said David Jackson, interim dean of ARD.

"The bottom line is we are shifting our research emphasis from large-scale lactation studies to more individual animal studies here in the building" on UNL's East Campus, Berger says. "Our dairy program will have a greater emphasis on animal digestion and ruminant microbiology, and this will allow us to address some of the major issues that are going to be facing the dairy industry nationally. 

"This research requires rapid and thorough use of cutting edge instrumentation for DNA isolation and analysis," Berger explains. "Also, this research is very intensive, so proper execution and animal welfare depends upon consistent monitoring and adjustments by lead scientists."

This modern research is "very different from that historically conducted" at the ARDC facility, Berger adds. 

The dairy research unit at ARDC typically has 150-175 cattle and is staffed by six people, who will be laid off. The new lab in Lincoln will involve 20-25 lactating cows, with two full-time staff. He added that UNL will work to help those affected find new jobs, either within the university system or elsewhere.

Some minor renovation will be needed in the Animal Science Complex to house the new Dairy Metabolism and Rumen Microbiology Laboratory. The lab will include a permanent display to educate children on dairy science.

Berger says UNL officials have met with key stakeholders, including representatives from the dairy industry and agricultural organizations to brief them on plans. "We're trying to be good stewards of limited resources," Berger says. "As taxpayers, they understand that."

Berger said UNL will work closely with three graduate students currently on assistantships and that this change in focus will not affect their studies.

The ARDC dairy facility will be closed by June 30, 2012.

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