Catch up with … Molly Sloan BS’06 Dairy Science/Life Sciences Communication

As a child, Molly Sloan dreamed of one day stepping onto the colorful shavings that cover the floor of the Dane County Coliseum in order to judge dairy cattle at the World Dairy Expo. Her inspiration came from growing up on a small dairy farm in northern Illinois, taking in everything about the business and the animals. From the farm, Sloan took the steps necessary to reach the Expo and make her dreams come true.

After coming to UW–Madison, Sloan quickly got involved in dairy on campus, establishing a network of dairy professionals at CALS. While completing degrees in dairy science and life sciences communication, she was active in such organizations as the Association of Women in Agriculture and the National AgriMarketing Association. Through dairy judging with her team in the Badger Dairy Club, Sloan refined her judging skills and sharpened her eye for prize cattle.

Sloan’s experiences and determination spurred success in both dairy genetics and cattle judging. Judging Ayrshires at the 2016 World Dairy Expo was her second time on the colored shavings she dreamed about as a kid—and it’s not likely to be her last.

How did your time and experiences at CALS help you get to where you are now?

I grew up in northern Illinois, and I knew all along that I wanted to study dairy science. I realized quickly that there was really no other option than CALS, which is world renowned for its dairy science program. I added a second major with agricultural journalism early on and was very involved in extracurricular activities as well as internships with different dairy genetics and reproductive AI [artificial insemination] companies. Through that involvement I was able to meet the industry contacts that I needed to get internships and, ultimately, job opportunities. When I finished college I started with Alta Genetics, and now, as Alta’s global training program manager, I travel the world pretty extensively.

What’s it like to judge cattle at the World Dairy Expo?

This has always been a dream of mine. When I came to the University of Wisconsin I knew right away that I wanted to be involved in the dairy judging team. Through intense workouts and practices I was fortunate enough to be part of a very competitive team with exceptional coaching from Dr. Dave Dickson and Ted Halbach. After that, I knew that I wanted to continue this experience if the opportunity arose.

The World Dairy Expo is considered a bit of a pinnacle for cattle judging. Where do you go from here?

I think you said it best; it really is the pinnacle in this field. I want to keep doing it as long as it’s fun. For me, every new show is a great opportunity and experience. I would love to have the opportunity to come back and do another show here on the colored shavings.

Molly Sloan, BS’06 Dairy Science/Life Sciences Communication, serves as an Arshire judge at the 2016 World Dairy Expo. 
Photo credit: Sevie Kenyon BS’80 MS’06

New Facilities Sharpen Our Cutting Edge

Dean Kate VandenBosch

Dean Kate VanderBosch

Our researchers in the meat, plant and dairy sciences have for years been making cutting-edge discoveries in facilities that were anything but. Through their dedication and ingenuity, they have managed to do pioneering work in buildings that have not seen significant updates since the mid-20th century.

We’re addressing that problem now with a state-of-the-art Meat Science Building that breaks ground this fall and a Plant Breeding Lab for which we have launched a vigorous capital campaign. These facilities, along with others now in planning, will greatly enhance the college’s research, teaching and public service work in disciplines that are crucial to meeting our world’s food, energy, health and economic development needs.

Grow readers may remember our spring 2013 cover story about plans for the Meat Science Building. Located near the Natatorium between Observatory Drive and Linden Drive, this facility will serve to advance research on all aspects of meat production, quality and safety. It will also allow researchers to develop high-value nonfood products for use in human and veterinary medicine, among other applications. Fans of Bucky’s Butchery can look for a name change to Bray’s Meats, in honor of our late beloved faculty member Bob Bray. The Meat Science Building is slated to open in 2018.

Meanwhile, the Plant Breeding Lab will find its home in the current Meat and Muscle Biology Lab, which will be repurposed into a sophisticated facility to process, analyze and store plant germplasm. Safe and reliable storage for seeds is a critical foundation for research in everything from plant breeding and genetics, plant physiology and molecular biology to crop protection and management and climate science. The Plant Breeding Lab will replace both the Seeds Building, which will be torn down this fall to make room for the Meat Science Building, and the Horticulture Annex. It will bring together plant scientists and their lab groups from agronomy, horticulture, genetics, biochemistry and plant pathology into one updated facility—an arrangement that will serve to increase both collaboration and cross-training among these disciplines.

The Plant Breeding Lab will include such features as storage chambers allowing for different temperature and humidity levels, seed treatment and cleaning labs and a grinding room to prepare plant tissues for chemical analysis. We seek to raise $3 million in private funds to support this significant renovation and remodeling effort.

As budgets tighten, it has been more important than ever for the college to prioritize its needs—and to invest our resources where we can have the greatest impact in both advancing research and meeting global challenges. These two facilities rose to the top through a long process that included consultation and partnerships with a wide range of stakeholders throughout the CALS community.

Neither venture would have been possible without alumni support. On behalf of the college, I offer you our heartfelt thanks.

To learn more, visit: http://meatsciences.cals.wisc.edu and http://supportuw.org/giveto/plantbreedinglab

Milk, Motherhood and the Dairy Cow

In the 1990s, dairy farmers were seeing a troubling trend in their herds. As cows produced more milk, their reproductive performance declined. This downward slope in reproduction, related to changes in the hormone metabolism of high-producing cows, spurred researchers into action. And CALS scientists found a solution—a reproductive synchronization system that could save Wisconsin dairy farmers more than $50 million each year.

“The development of these systems has been one of the greatest technological advances in dairy cattle reproduction since artificial insemination,” says Paul Fricke, a CALS professor of dairy science and a UW–Extension specialist. “It is highly, highly significant.”

For the past 20 years, Fricke has been working on the synchronization systems with fellow dairy science professor Milo Wiltbank. The systems, called Ovsynch, consist of treatments with naturally occurring hormones and are based on Wiltbank’s research into the basic biology of the cow reproductive cycle. The hormonal treatments synchronize the cycles so that farmers know when their cows are most likely to become pregnant.

Pregnancy rates in a herd are a product of two numbers: the service rate (the percentage of eligible cows that are inseminated) and the conception rate (the number of inseminated cows that become pregnant). Historically, farmers relied on visually recognizing when cows were in heat in order to time insemination—a tricky feat that often resulted in missed opportunities and low service rates.
“One of the biggest problems in dairy cattle reproduction is seeing the cows in heat,” says Fricke. “If you can proactively control the reproductive cycle, you can inseminate cows without waiting for them to show heat.”

Synchronization systems take the guesswork out of insemination, increasing service rates and pregnancy rates. Since the technology was first published in the mid-1990s, Fricke, Wiltbank and their colleagues have worked to optimize the systems. Researchers now see conception rates of more than 50 percent, and pregnancy rates of 30 percent or higher. Just 15 years ago, average conception and pregnancy rates were around 35 and 15 percent, respectively. A 30 percent pregnancy rate in herds producing high volumes of milk was unimaginable.

With impressive pregnancy rates and the safety of the system—the natural hormones used are short-lived and do not end up in food products—researchers and farmers alike are excited about further adoption of the technology. The payoff is substantial, considering the costs and benefits of breeding dairy cows, says Kent Weigel, professor and chair of the Department of Dairy Science.

“If we say that this technology will result in a 6 percent improvement in pregnancy rates, and we assume that it costs about $4 for each extra day that a cow is not pregnant, the technology could save Wisconsin dairy farmers about $58 million per year with just 50 percent of farmers using it,” explains Weigel. “This is a prime example of basic biology that turned out to have a practical application with huge economic benefits.”

PHOTO—Dairy scientist Paul Fricke has developed a way to inseminate cows before they show signs of being in heat.

Photo by Sevie Kenyon BS’80 MS’06

Even Cows are “Texting”

Douglas J. Reinemann is a professor and chair of the Department of Biological Systems Engineering at UW–Madison and a milking equipment/energy specialist with UW–Extension. His research focuses on machine milking, energy use and energy production in agricultural systems. He is a member of the sustainability group of the UW–Madison-based Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center, where he examines environmental impacts of biofuels production systems. He also leads UW–Madison’s “green cheese” team, which investigates synergies between dairy and biofuels production systems in Wisconsin. Reinemann has directed activities of the UW Milking Research and Instruction Lab since 1990. His extensive work with machine milking includes serving as the U.S. representative and chair of the International Dairy Federation’s working group on machine milking as well as the U.S. representative on machine milking committees with the International Standards Organization. He also has chaired machine milking committees with the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers and the National Mastitis Council.

What kinds of things are cows texting their owners?
This is a development that’s come about through the implementation of robotic milking systems. A robotic milking system has a computer for a brain, and, of course, computers can communicate with us, so dairy farmers have the option of selecting what sorts of information they’d like to get from the dairy herd and how often and when they’d like to get that information.

For example, earlier this year I was at the National Mastitis Council meeting and some dairy farmers there were frequently checking their cell phones to monitor what was going on back home—how’s the robot doing, are the cows showing up to be milked, is the machine working—and even tracking individual cows’ health status and milk production. How’s this cow doing today?

What kind of information is texted to a cell phone?
There are several levels of alert. There are more important things such as, for example, if the machine breaks down and it’s not working—that’s a very high level of alert. And the computer will call you up on your phone and say, “We have a problem with unit No. 2, it doesn’t seem to be operating. Come out and have a look at it or send someone to have a look at it.”

What other kinds of information are dairy farmers collecting from their herds?
With robotic milking in particular, but also in conventional parlors, we can collect the most basic information—milk yield, for example, so that we know how much the cow is giving at each milking. With that information you can determine that if today’s yield is down by a certain percentage, you might want to have a look at that cow. That’s a text message you might receive: “Cow No. 3765, Elsie, is down to half of what we should expect, and you might want to have a look at her today.”

What are some advantages of this kind of technology on the dairy farm?
It falls into the general category of precision agriculture. This kind of information allows a dairy manager to track individual cow information, as opposed to the more general trend in the industry toward group management in the last decade or so. This is a move back toward more individual cow management, which allows the farm to be more efficient.

You mentioned that this is “too much information’ for some farmers. . .
[Laughs] The game changer with robots is that when a robot is milking the cow, there’s not a person standing there. That really created the need for some kind of automated communication system. The robot has to be able to communicate with a human being in the event that something goes wrong. When you install a robot, one of the big questions is, “Who gets the call?”

Some farmers think that this is just fantastic. They say, “I don’t have to worry about the robot, I can just let it run,
and if something goes wrong, it will give me a call and then I’ll go look at it, but otherwise I don’t have to worry about it.”

On the other hand, you have people who hate it because they say, “I’m always on call and I’m always nervous about
getting the call, and it’s driving me crazy!”

So that’s a really interesting dynamic, I think. And it raises all kinds of questions. Do we trust this technology? Do we want the information? We certainly want to know when something’s going wrong—but on the other hand, sometimes we really don’t.

What other information can be collected on a dairy cow?
Right after milk yield, mastitis detection is near the top of the list. Even in conventional parlors we have ways of detecting whether a cow might be developing a mastitis infection. But in a robotic milking system, that detection technology is more sophisticated.

How about feed management, walking activity. . .
There’s a whole variety of sensors that tell us about different aspects of cow activity. The one we’ve been using the longest would be a simple pedometer to tell us how many steps the cow is taking. I recently got a Fitbit myself, so now I’m counting my steps as well.

Activity monitoring is used for a number of things, primarily reproduction—it’s used for heat detection—but it also can be used for lameness detection. And more sophisticated systems can actually locate the cow in the barn, so we know whether the cow is in the feed bunk or whether she’s lying down. That allows us to look at time budgets, the percentage of time spent resting or eating. An even more sophisticated technology detects the rumination activity of a cow. Rumination monitors can be put in the rumen, like a large pill, and they transmit information wirelessly.

How does such up-close information about the rumen help a dairy farmer?
It’s used to manage nutrition. Cows are ruminants, and rumination is what drives milk production, so a decrease in rumination activity is an indication that there is something wrong either with animal health or potentially something wrong with the dairy ration.

What resources are available to help farmers adopt these new technologies?
I actually ran a series of user groups for managers of milking parlors, which we established through UW–Extension agents. We got milking parlor managers together and talked about what technologies they were using and how they were using it. It was a very effective way to break the chicken-or-egg syndrome. You don’t really know what the technology can do for you until you actually start using it. And you don’t even know how to go about using it unless you know what it can do for you. The user groups are farmers saying, “I tried this and it really helped.”

One of the challenges is, salespeople sometimes make big promises about what their technology can do, and it can’t really do it. So people become hesitant. Once you’ve had a few experiences with some technology that promises you the world and then it doesn’t work, it sours you on technology in general. User groups are a way to get feedback from someone who’s tried it and can confirm that it’s helpful in managing dairy operation.

There are also user groups organized by companies that produce a particular technology, including robotic milking. These companies seem to be doing a good job facilitating
user groups.

Look into your crystal ball. Where can this go from here?
The move toward automation in dairy farming has been steadily progressing over the last 100 years. So this progression is really just a continuation of more automation in the dairy industry. What that means for dairy producers is economic efficiency, better animal welfare and better quality of life for the cow and the farmers.

Hannah Gerbitz BS’13

Hannah Gerbitz BS'13

Hannah Gerbitz BS’13

Hannah Gerbitz launched her working life with AgrAbility, a federal program that in Wisconsin partners with UW–Extension to help people keep working in production agriculture while living with a farm injury, disability or other limitation. Gerbitz completed an internship with AgrAbility as an undergraduate and, after earning a degree in dairy science and life sciences communication, soon began working for the organization as an outreach specialist, overseeing efforts to broaden and enhance public awareness of the program. “My favorite part of my job is seeing our services come full circle and benefiting the farmers that we work hard to serve,” says Gerbitz, who grew up on a small dairy farm.

The MBA of Dairy

The average age of a Wisconsin farmer is over 56 and rising, and the state has been losing around 500 dairy farms per year. It’s no surprise, then, that experts say it’s critical to prepare young people to step into farm roles in order to keep the state’s $88 billion agricultural economy strong into the future.

But making the transition into dairy farming is complicated, and aspiring farmers often don’t have the capital or the experience to take over an established operation.

Enter the Dairy Grazing Apprenticeship (DGA) program, which is working to address the issue by providing support for young people interested in becoming dairy farmers. Started in 2010, the first-of-its-kind program is administered by the Wisconsin-based nonprofit GrassWorks, Inc., with CALS as a key partner.

Earlier this year, DGA received $750,000 from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program. The funding will enable organizers to improve and expand the program in Wisconsin, as well as explore the possibility of rolling it out to other dairy states.

“It’s a meat-and-potatoes program that really takes people up to the level where they can own and operate their own dairy,” says DGA director Joe Tomandl. “It’s the MBA of dairy.”

Program participants complete 4,000 hours of paid training over two years, most of it alongside experienced dairy farmers, and work their way up from apprentices to Journey Dairy Graziers and Master Dairy Graziers. Although most of that time is spent in on-the-job training, there’s also a significant requirement for related instruction. That’s where CALS comes in.

As part of the program, apprentices attend a seminar about pasture-based dairy and livestock through the Wisconsin School for Beginning Dairy and Livestock Farmers (WSBDF), which is co-sponsored by the CALS-based Center for Integrated Agricultural Systems and the Farm and Industry Short Course. The seminar involves a 32-hour commitment, which is generally fulfilled through distance education and includes instruction from CALS professors from dairy, animal and soil sciences.

“We believe in the Wisconsin Idea and want to make sure our classes are accessible to people who want more education, but preferably close to where they live and work,” says Nadia Alber, a WSBDF outreach coordinator who helps organize the seminar and also serves on the DGA board.

In 2009, GrassWorks, Inc. turned to WSBDF director Dick Cates PhD’83 for guidance and access to a well-respected educational curriculum to help get the DGA up and running—and the WSBDF team has been involved ever since.

“We were just this little nonprofit with a very small budget trying to compete for a big federal grant,” says Tomandl. “For us, it was important to have UW–Madison as a strategic partner.”

As part of the most recent round of funding, DGA’s partners at CALS will lead an effort to quantify the program’s broader impacts.
“They have already proven that participants are moving along to their own farms after the apprenticeship, so they have an established track record,” says Alber. “This new study will look at some of the program’s other impacts, including economic, environmental and social.”

A Groundbreaking Gut Check

You might expect that the most important break- through in feeding dairy cattle in years would rate
a snazzy name. Instead, you get “total tract neutral detergent fiber digestibility”—TTNDFD for short.

“Yes, I know. That’s a terrible name. But unless someone comes up with something better it’s TTNDFD,” says CALS dairy nutrition scientist David Combs.

No matter. For an idea this good, a clever name isn’t needed.

The discovery of TTNDFD, a new forage test, lays to rest a mystery that’s perplexed researchers and dairy farmers since scientific forage analysis began 40 years ago: Why cows would wolf down one finely tuned dairy ration but turn up their noses at another that, on paper, was identical?

“We couldn’t put a finger on it,” Combs says. “You’d get your forage analysis, balance the ration, and everything seemed fine. But one time the cows would eat everything up, the next time you’d get a high rate of refusal.”

That mystery cost money. When cows eat to capacity, they produce milk to capacity, and milk sold off the farm is what pays the bills. “It wasn’t so much good forage, bad forage. Those things we can detect. It was those times when everything seems fine and the cows would not eat as much as expected or not produce as well as before,” Combs says.

Cows are professional eaters and highly discern- ing about what gets served. They’ll eat a lot of differ- ent things but will eat a great deal more of the things they like best. What the Combs team figured out— through research that involved 20 years of reaching into the 30-gallon vats known as cow rumens—was that how much cows gobbled up and turned into milk was influenced by the rate of fiber digestion. Developing a test to account for it ushered in a new feeding system that offers several advantages.

For one, the new forage fiber test lets farmers
see the differences in the feeds they have on hand. For another, it helps them grow and buy the types of feeds most favored by cows. For yet another, plant breeders can use the test to create the type of crops cows want the most. And most important, the test can help milk producers make more money.

“How fiber is digested can easily make five to six pounds per day difference in milk production in a dairy cow,” Combs says.

There could also be some positive ripple effects. As people applied the test to all kinds of forage, they discovered that grass is something of a magic missing ingredient in the daily dairy diet. The right kind of grass is really good for cows, and the test can help farmers select the right grasses to grow.

Reintroducing grass to dairy diets on a large scale could be great for the landscape. Grass soaks up carbon and nutrients, holds soil in place, covers otherwise bare ground during the winter, and can help absorb manure applications.

The test also opens opportunities for entrepre- neurs. When Rock River Labs in Watertown hired John Goeser BS’04 MS’06 PhD’08, who’d earned a doctorate under Combs, it became the first lab in the world to offer this new analysis to the dairy community.

“It’s started a little slow. But it went from no
tests to 5,000 tests in a season,” Combs says. Now Combs uses a large spreadsheet to review the data being generated by thousands of TTNDFD tests performed by Rock River. More labs are looking into offering TTNDFD results as part of a forage analysis package.

Field Notes: India

Anuj Modi was nervous when he arrived for the first day of his summer internship at the Marshfield Agricultural Research Station last year. The freshman dairy science major could have been back home with friends and family in Bikaner, India. Instead, he was on the other side of the world, tasked with helping care for a large herd of dairy cattle. It was the first job he had ever had.

And he’d never milked a cow.

“Before my internship, a cow was just like any other animal—like a horse or a camel,” Modi recalls. “I didn’t know anything about cows or dairy farming.”

But that doesn’t mean Modi didn’t know a thing or two about the dairy industry. His grandfather got the family into the business more than 40 years ago. His father helped carry on the legacy, and Modi is now hoping to take the family dairy business into its third generation. Today, Lotus Dairy has three processing plants in Rajastahn, India’s largest state. They process one million liters of milk a day, selling it to clients like Nestle and Mother Dairy, a subsidiary of India’s National Dairy Development Board.

Considering this, the fact that it took a move to Wisconsin to acquaint Modi with a cow may sound strange. But there are very few modern dairy farms in India. The cow enjoys sacred status in the Hindu faith and legal protection in many Indian states, which means managing a large herd and culling cows that are sick or not producing is often out of the question.

In addition to political and religious considerations, having a small herd is simply a way of life for many. “People in rural areas keep four or five cows in their backyard and sell the milk to people like Lotus,” Modi says. “We collect milk mainly from villages. We have chilling centers in 80 locations across our state, and the number of people bringing us milk is high, close to 35,000 or 40,000.”

This arrangement is so common that it makes India the world’s leading producer of milk. And it’s not even close. According to a recent U.S. Department of Agriculture report, India has 48 million dairy cows, up from 38 million only five years ago. Brazil, the next closest country, has half as many. There are only 9.2 million in the United States.

Combine that level of supply with a modernizing industry that’s making milk production and processing more efficient, and you have the beginning of a boom. International developments like these are being felt here on campus, says Kent Weigel, professor and chair of the Department of Dairy Sciences.

“As the dairy farms and milk processing plants in countries like India, China and Pakistan expand and modernize, they import supplies, equipment and expertise from North America,” Weigel says. “And they build relationships, which lead to sending the next generation to study abroad.”

Weigel says the resulting influx of international students is beneficial to the department. They provide existing students with a new and global perspective regarding dairy farming and life in other countries. And, he says, “They extend Dairy Science’s reach and impact well beyond the borders of Wisconsin—influencing dairy production systems on other continents and building a global alumni base.”

Class Act: A Vet-to-Be

James Downey was thigh-high to a Percheron when he got his first look at veterinary medicine. As he watched the local vet treat his grandparents’ draft horses, the seed for a career in animal health was planted.

He already was tuned in to the idea of a medical career because both his parents were nurses. “They do health care for people; I love animals. I saw this as a way to tie the two together,” says Downey, who grew up in Manitowoc County near Valders.

By high school he was earning money raising grass-fed beef and litters of pigs and helping out on nearby dairy operations. And he’d begun shadowing a vet—the same one who treated his own stock and his grandparents’ horses.

By the end of his freshman year at CALS, Downey was on the fast track. He’d been accepted to the highly selective Food Animal Veterinary Medicine Scholars program (FAVeMedS), which was created to address concerns about a shortage of agricultural veterinarians. Undergraduates in FAVeMedS are guaranteed a spot in the UW School of Veterinary Medicine (SVM) after completing their junior year.

As a designated vet-to-be at CALS, Downey pursued hands-on training in the labs of CALS animal sciences professor Mark Cook and SVM professor Dr. Gary Etzel. And he honed his people skills by serving as a peer mentor in the Bradley Learning Community (a housing program that helps freshmen transition to college life), as a house fellow in the Farm and Industry Short Course dorms, and as a leader in groups like Saddle and Sirloin and Collegiate FFA.

The business he’s going into is changing fast, Downey says. “Vets are spending more of their time in a consulting role. Our job isn’t just to treat animal disease. We look at the entire farm to see what we can do to prevent infections and outbreaks. As a vet in the future, it will be important to have broad knowledge for looking at the whole farm.”

Getting that broad knowledge will likely take him far from home—he plans to work on swine, beef and dairy operations outside of Wisconsin in his fourth year of vet school, his “extern” year, to see different practices—but he hopes that’s temporary. “I’d love to end up back in Valders,” Downey says. “I love where I’m from. I want to learn as much as I can, to be well-rounded, so that when I move back I can help everybody.”

Give: Never Too Early to Start Giving

You can’t be too young or too busy to make a difference as a CALS graduate. Sara Schoenborn BS’10 (dairy science/life sciences communication) is proof of that.

Last year Schoenborn, 27, stepped into a new job as executive director of the Wisconsin FFA Foundation, where her duties include spearheading ambitious fundraising efforts. She’s also served on committees for Cows on the Concourse and Dane County Farm Technology Days.

Yet she still finds time for CALS. Schoenborn is vice president of the board of directors with the Wisconsin Agricultural and Life Sciences Alumni Association (WALSAA), a nonprofit membership organization offering a range of activities for CALS alumni and scholarships and awards for current students and faculty.

And she helped charter a Sigma Alpha Alumni Chapter at UW–Madison, with the goal of helping current members of the sorority for ag professionals through networking, scholarships and loans.

What motivates her, as an alumna, to give so much of her time and energy?

“CALS did more than simply provide me with an excellent education,” she says. “It gave me the chance to meet some of my best friends through student orgs, prepared me for both internships and my postcollegiate career by connecting me to influential members of the industry, and taught me the importance of being involved and continuing to grow as a person and member of the community.”

Schoenborn wants to make sure students continue to have the same opportunities.

“When I ask current students what they hope to acquire from alumni, they almost always say ‘networking,’” she says. “Staying connected to CALS students can be as simple as attending events such as WALSAA Football Fire-Up, offering to give a presentation to a class or even inviting a student org to tour your business.”

Even as a young alumna, Schoenborn contributes regularly to the CALS annual fund.

“It’s often difficult for a new grad to justify a contribution, particularly when repaying student loans—but even small gifts make a difference,” she says. “And it’s important to remember that there are additional ways to give back—through time, energy and support.”

The Power of Pizza

The busloads of schoolkids who visit Jauquet Dairy each year have lots to talk about when they get home—from the really cute newborn calves to the really big cows and the really cool machines that milk them.

Dave Jauquet gets a kick out of all that, but he wants them to remember something else as well: The link between his farm and what they eat. And he has a good way of getting that across.

“I tell them that the milk from these cows ends up on pizza. I like to tell them that because they can connect it all the way from standing here, seeing a lot of cows eating food, to something they actually have for supper,” Jauquet says. “Because pretty much every kid eats pizza.”

And so do their parents, friends and neighbors. In the myriad menu items that make up American cuisine, pizza is as close as you get to a universal food. Ninety-seven percent of U.S. consumers had some at least once last year, and 41 percent of us eat it once a week.

That matters in a very big way to people like Jauquet and his partners—his wife Stacy and brother Jeff. Virtually every pound of milk produced on their Kewaunee County farm is made into six-pound loaves of mozzarella and sleek “salamis” of provolone. Like the people who buy that cheese—mostly independent Italian eateries—the Jauquets, their dozen employees and 600-plus Holsteins are in the pizza business.

That’s the case for somewhere around a quarter of Wisconsin’s 1.25 million dairy cows—the working girls in an industry that generates 150,000 jobs, half of the state’s farm revenue and $26.5 billion in economic activity. At least 85 percent of the state’s milk goes into cheese, a third of which is mozzarella, the vast majority of which ends up on pizza.

“As pizza goes, so goes the dairy industry,” says John Umhoefer, executive director of the Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association.

Forty years ago, cheddar was the state’s big cheese. Mozzarella was a specialty cheese, made by firms that specialized in Italian varieties sold primarily to Italian American customers. Since 1970, Wisconsin’s mozzarella production has increased tenfold—it surpassed cheddar in 2000. So has U.S. per capita consumption. “That’s all pizza,” Umhoefer says.

In a nation with 70,000 pizzerias and pizzas sold in every bowling alley and convenience store, it’s hard to imagine a time when pizza wasn’t part of the broad cultural landscape. But it wasn’t until after World War II that pizza went mainstream. Cultural historians attribute the shift to American G.I.s who acquired a taste for it while serving in Italy. It also meshed with trends of the time: Informal dining, ethnic foods, eating by the TV, and lots of cars to facilitate takeout, delivery and road food.

If you want to get a feel for how pizza transformed Wisconsin’s cheese business, a good person to talk to is Roger Krohn, master cheesemaker at the Agropur facility in Luxemburg. Krohn is in charge of turning milk from Jauquet Dairy and 150 other area farms into pizza cheese. His family began making cheese at this site in 1892, and when they sold the business 108 years later, Roger Krohn stayed on to oversee cheese production. It was in his DNA. He grew up next door to the cheese plant and began making cheese there at age 14.

For the first 68 years, like most Wisconsin cheese firms, the Krohns made cheddar. In 1960, that changed. “I think my dad was looking to branch out into something a little less competitive—a new niche market,” Krohn says. “An Italian gentleman encouraged him to get into mozzarella, because he foresaw the pizza industry really taking off.”

It was a leap of faith—“Pizza was not a real big deal in 1960, at least not in the Midwest,” Krohn says—but a smart one. The mozzarella making began modestly—two guys kneading and stretching the curd by hand—but never stopped expanding. By next year, when a major expansion is done, the plant will be using 2.4 million pounds of milk from 28,000 cows to produce about a quarter of a million pounds of pizza cheese—every day.

As pizza picked up, more Wisconsin cheddar plants followed suit, says Dean Sommer of the Wisconsin Center for Dairy Research (CDR), a CALS-based dairy foods research and education program.

“They read the tea leaves,” says Sommer, who in 1986 took a job at Alto Dairy (now Saputo foods) in Waupun—then the nation’s largest cheese plant—to help the firm expand into mozzarella. “Consumption of pizza was on a double-digit increase every year, and the margins of making mozzarella were higher than for cheddar cheese. They could see that with the growth of pizza and the growth of mozzarella, and the profitability, this was a better place to be.”

Gut Feeling

Students at a Chicago public high school got some hands-on—and hands-in—experience with two cannulated cows that CALS dairy science management instructor Ted Halbach and dairy science PhD student Shane Fredin brought down to the Windy City.

Although the Chicago High School for Agricultural
Sciences (CHSAS) is a magnet school for ag and life sciences, its urban location limits student opportunities to get up close and personal with farm animals. The cows were part of a workshop teaching students how feed is digested in the four compartments of a dairy cow’s stomach.

“The students were stunned that they got to put their arm in a cow,” notes CHSAS instructor Maggie Kendall. “After the first brave soul, they all lined up with gloves, eager to follow suit. They were enthralled and it was organized in a way that kept their attention. They had just enough time at each station to absorb the material and ask questions.”

CALS regularly recruits students from CHSAS, sparking interest and cultivating relationships through such activities as workshops and frequent visits by Tom Browne, CALS assistant dean for minority affairs. Currently five students from CHSAS are undergrads at CALS.