Dairy Science Research

Delaware’s dairy industry is a vital segment of the agricultural economies of both the state and the nation. In Delaware, milk sales rank fifth in agricultural receipts and top the income of all livestock products except poultry. The College of Agriculture and Natural Resources at the University of Delaware has a long history of innovative research and rigorous teaching programs in dairy science. The dairy science research, teaching, and extension programs of the University of Delaware work cooperatively to integrate the findings from basic and applied research into cost-effective management practices for the dairy industry in the Northeast region, nationally, and abroad.

Facts about the the U.S. and Delaware Dairy Industries

  • United States milk production rose 16% from 1997-2006, reaching nearly 182 billion pounds of milk produced annually, leading all countries in cow milk production
  • Over $28 billion dollars worth of milk are produced each year by the U.S. dairy industry, with the retail value of dairy products totaling about $100 billion/year
  • Dairy sales comprise almost 10% of all U.S. agricultural income
  • Dairy product sales rank in the top two agricultural commodities in 14 states
  • Dairy products represent the top agricultural cash receipts in 9 states
  • For statistics on the dairy industry visit the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service website.

Dairy research at the University of Delaware focuses on the general areas of dairy nutrition – with an emphasis on forage and silage production and rumen fermentation – and dairy cow health.

The  dairy science teaching program blends traditional college coursework with hands on opportunities for students interested in careers in the dairy industry or in other animal science professions or moving on to veterinary school or graduate school. Many students begin their work in dairy science as freshmen in Functional Anatomy of Domestic Animals. This course, in addition to Reproductive Physiology of Domestic Animals offered to upperclassmen, provides the framework for understanding the basics of dairy cows. The Dairy Production course provides students with a basic knowledge and understanding of the management and production of dairy cattle in the United States. Laboratory periods provide an opportunity for the development of hands-on skills used in dairy production. The upper level course Ruminant Nutrition and Metabolism teaches students the fundamentals of microbial fermentation and covers how these processes benefit the cow by supplying nutrients and detoxifying detrimental compounds in the diet. Lactational Physiology covers the fundamentals of physiology and metabolism involved in starting, maintaining, and stopping lactation

Dairy Nutrition and Silage Fermentation Laboratory

Forage and silage quality can have tremendous impacts on the production of dairy cows. The University of Delaware conducts a nationally and internationally recognized research program that investigates ways to maximize forage and silage quality and improve rumen fermentation. This research program, led by Dr. Limin Kung, has most recently examined the value of microbial inoculants that improve the aerobic stability of silages, the use of enzymes to improve feed efficiency, and a wide range of applied management strategies to enhance forage quality.

Ruminant Immune and Inflammatory Response Laboratory

Bovine lameness in cattle causes behavior modifications such as decreased motion and disruption of feeding patterns. Losses attributed to lameness can cost the dairy industry upwards of $81 billion in lost revenue annually; perhaps more importantly, lameness is associated with detrimental effects on animal health and welfare for dairy cattle. At UD, significant research efforts are underway in two key areas: applied methods for automated, continuous detection of lameness in dairy cattle and the patho-physiology of lameness.

Ruminant Biology Laboratory

Research conducted in the Ruminant Biology Laboratory examines aspects of nutrition and immune function in dairy cows. Dr. Tanya Gressley works to uncover the role that circadian rhythms play in maintaining health and preventing disease. Current research projects investigate circadian patterns of gene expression in white blood cells taken from healthy animals and animals with compromised immune systems. Future research projects will focus on the natural changes in white blood cell function that occur during the course of a day. Ultimately, understanding what keeps cows healthy will help them to live longer and more productive lives and will increase dairy profitability.

The University of Delaware Dairy is an integral part of the university’s teaching, research, and extension programs. The dairy, located on the 350 acre College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR) complex in Newark, provides hands-on experiences and research opportunities for undergraduate and graduate students. These experiences are significantly enhanced by the close proximity of our teaching and research facilities to the UD Newark farm. Only a few minutes separate the students engaged in our dairy science program from the real-world setting of a working dairy farm. Dairy nutrition research is closely linked with studies on silage and forage production conducted on the farm. All forages fed at the UD dairy are grown on UD farmlands, where about 130 acres is available for the production of corn silage and alfalfa haylage. Additional UD land in nearby Middletown, Delaware provides an important supplementary source of haylage.

The dairy science program is also an outstanding example of the use of environmentally sound management practices that sustain productivity and protect water quality. Farm-wide, the UD CANR implements a comprehensive nutrient management plan that addresses nutrient balance and best management practices implemented in order to use fertilizers and manures in a manner that optimizes plant and animal productivity and protects air, soil, and water quality. Cooperative Extension programs conducted on the farm demonstrate these practices to farmers and others in the dairy industry.

The farm and accompanying facilities offer many research opportunities for graduate and undergraduate students. Undergraduates may be involved in research in several ways. Students can volunteer, be paid, or obtain academic credit for research. Several formal programs are also available that support undergraduate research, including the Science and Engineering Scholars (SES) Program, the Howard Hughes Research Program, and the McNair Scholars Program. Many undergraduate and graduate researchers have gone on to complete successful programs in graduate programs (M.S. and Ph.D. degrees) and veterinary school. Students have become practicing veterinarians, extension educators, biologists and research scientists in industry and at Universities.

Communicating results of the latest dairy science research to Delaware’s agricultural community is a high priority for UD Cooperative Extension. The CANR has established a multi-disciplinary dairy extension team that is responsible for technology transfer and assisting dairy farms throughout the state. Key areas addressed by this Extension team include dairy nutrition, agronomic aspects of crop production on dairy farms, engineering systems for housing, feeding, milking, and waste management, dairy health and reproduction, and the economics of dairy farming. The team organizes the annual Delmarva Dairy Days Program, conducts short programs on special topics, and does regular visits to farms. Newsletters and fact sheets are also disseminated throughout the state and region.

Dairy Extension Resources are available here.