Richard Morris, manager of the University of Delaware Dairy.

A dairy in the life

UD's dairy team works on producing milk, aiding research

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9:10 a.m., June 28, 2012--National Dairy Month officially ends at midnight on July 1. Merely four and one-half hours later, in the wee hours of the morning, the University of Delaware Dairy staff will be right back where they’ve always been -- hard at work milking the herd. 

Cows are milked twice a day on the dairy farm, with a morning milking running from 4:30-7:30 a.m. and an afternoon milking taking place from 3:30-6 p.m.

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Richard Morris, dairy manager, explained that the milking is done by one of the farm’s two full-time employees. Ron Gouge, farm assistant, usually handles the milking, working five days a week and milking every other weekend, while Mark Baker, farm assistant, is responsible for feeding the cows, cleaning the barns and helping out with maintenance. 

Student workers also help out with the milking of the cows and when asked how the student employees have been about getting up at 4:30 in the morning, Morris is quick to say that they have been great.

“The past few years we’ve actually had pretty good luck of getting students that would do the morning milking,” said Morris. “Usually we would just do the morning milking ourselves, and then afternoons we would always have help, but I’d say the past two years we’ve had quite a few morning milkers.” 

With the two milkings, the UD Dairy produces 85 pounds of milk per cow per day, or between 9-10 gallons per cow, which is up significantly since Morris began working on the farm 26 years ago when the dairy produced around 6-7 gallons of milk per cow per day. 

Once the milk is produced on the farm, it is put in a cooling tank, chilled at 38 degrees and then picked up every two days by Hy-Point Dairy. 

Hy-Point then pasteurizes and homogenizes the milk to make it suitable for drinking, and some of it is sent back for use in the UD dining halls. Additional UD-produced milk is used in cafeterias at public schools in New Castle County.

Hy-Point also sends a portion of the milk it receives from the UD Dairy to Cumberland Farms in New Jersey, where it provides the base mix for the ice cream served at the UDairy Creamery.

Morris’ job also includes helping out UD faculty with their research, specifically the work being done by Limin Kung, professor, and Tanya Gressley, assistant professor, both in the Department of Animal and Food Sciences in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources.

“A lot of time and work is put into helping them do their research,” said Morris. “Usually when we’re assisting with their research, they have a graduate student assigned to that project, so we work a lot with the graduate student.” 

Morris explained that helping with the research involves determining which cows the researchers will use, getting the research equipment set up and letting the researchers know what feed they need to use for the study.  

Kung said that the dairy staff has been “successful in operating as a normal dairy farm and addressing the needs for research. On a day-to-day basis, Richard Morris, Ron Gouge and Mark Baker are an outstanding group of individuals that keep animal health and production at their best. Whether its 10 degrees or 100 degrees Fahrenheit, these individuals are constantly looking out for the animals.” 

Kung also highlighted Scott Hopkins, farm superintendent, Charlie Willis, farm assistant, and Albert Nojunas, farm assistant, for playing key roles in producing forage for the dairy cows to eat. 

Farm improvements

During his 26 years working on the UD farm, Morris has seen a lot of changes but perhaps none more so than in 2007 when the farm was upgraded with new equipment including a new milking parlor, a state-of-the-art manure processing barn which includes a 1.2 million gallon manure tank.

The milking parlor, which opened in 2008, has helped to cut the milking time in half, and provided better lighting, ventilation, and comfort for both the employees and the cows. 

Gressley explained that one of the improvements to the parlor involves the cows wearing transponders around their necks in order for a computer to identify what particular cow is in which stall in the parlor. The computer can then record how much milk each cow produces, so the milk production is known for each individual cow during every milking. 

“The big thing you can tell is who are your really good cows and who are your not so great cows,” said Gressley. 

With regards to cow comfort, Gressley explained, “We have very comfortable stalls, and the reason we have very comfortable stalls is they are filled with sand, really the best option that’s out there. The cows really like that -- it gives them mobility to get up and down, and it’s comfortable for them.” 

The sand is also able to be recycled, thanks to the new manure processing system which separates the solid and liquid manure from the sand, allowing the sand to be re-used for the cow bedding, cutting down on costs.

As far as the manure improvements go, it has benefitted both the dairy and the UD farm in general. The solid manure produced on the farm is hauled away by a local farmer, while the liquid manure is stored and then applied to the UD cropland in a timely manner, providing most of the fertilizer necessary to grow crops. 

The manure processing barn is also equipped with a 9.6 kilowatt solar panel system, 44 solar panels in all, which helps augment the electricity cost when the processing barn is being used, producing an estimated 11,000 kilowatt hours per year. 

Article by Adam Thomas

Photos by Danielle Quigley

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