as working farm
Johnny Brooks, a 1983 N.C. State Agricultural Institute graduate, manages a 550-Holstein dairy research herd at Umstead Farm, a North Carolina Agricultural Research Service unit near Butner. Brooks, who grew up on his family’s dairy in western North Carolina, supervises the traditional activities of a dairy — hoof trimming to birthing and breeding — but he has a lot of help from the technology of a state-of-the-art research facility.
At Umstead, Brooks zips through on-screen computerized dairy records. In a heartbeat, he can tell if a cow is turning out her share of the day’s milk, has something amiss with her milk-producing glands, has calved recently or is just a bit off her feed. At the facility’s milking parlor, a computer linked to his desktop computer reads neck collars on cows being milked and sends their numbers to the milk machine, which identifies the cow with about 85 percent accuracy and measures how much milk she gives.
The Umstead Farm Dairy Unit is run cooperatively by the Animal Science Department in N.C. State’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, N.C. State’s College of Veterinary Medicine, the North Carolina Agricultural Research Service at N.C. State and the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.
Brooks’ herd is part of an operation that’s been evolving since 1949, when N.C. State University and NCDA&CS scientists began developing a research and teaching herd at the farm, which has become a treasure trove of research data on efficient dairy cattle management.
Enhancing that research and the farm’s North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service activities will be upcoming additions to the facility’s high-tech approach to dairying. They include a 64,480-square-foot, 60-stall, self-feeding nutrition barn and a 2,800-square-foot maternity and veterinary treatment barn.
“We’ll use the feed barn to study feed use and efficiency, milk quality and nutrient management from the environment, through the cow and back to the environment,” says Dr. Lon Whitlow, a Cooperative Extension Service dairy cattle nutrition and feeding management specialist in charge of the unit’s animal feeding.
“The feeding stations are designed so that with electronic keys each cow will wear around her neck, she can enter only her own gate, allowing us to get individual intake and performance information on a variety of experimental diets.”
Both buildings should be in place by 2001, says Jeff Anderson, the NCDA&CS engineer who designed them.
Dairy researchers such as Whitlow and many others in N.C. State’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences enjoy many high-tech advantages as they strive to improve breeding for milk production. Their work is based on understanding sire selection and the genetics of economically important traits.
The herd also is part of a long-running genetics study by Dr. Ben McDaniel, animal science professor, comparing milk production, type, longevity and many other traits among sire groups.
The concepts McDaniel and other researchers develop and apply in genetics, physiology, nutrition and economics are passed along to farmers through the Cooperative Extension Service, based in the College.
Brooks already applies many of those concepts in his daily work. For instance, he can access an extensive computerized herd database in a program called PCDART, developed by and linked to the Raleigh-based national Dairy Records Management System, directed by John Clay, a doctoral candidate in the College. DRMS processes records on 1.7 million cows in 14,600 herds across 41 states.
New station superintendent Dr. Reid Evans notes that despite state government and other building projects steadily whittling away the dairy farm’s essential 4,000-acre land base, both extensive research and milk production continue here.
As Brooks says, “There’s a lot more to dairy farming than most people realize.”