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When Your Classroom Is a Cow

ONE OF THE FIRST LESSONS STUDENTS LEARN in Milo Wiltbank’s new dairy reproduction course is that they’d better wear their barn clothes to class. For every hour in the classroom, they spend two-and-a-half at the business end of a dairy cow.

Wiltbank’s class is part of the dairy science department’s efforts to refocus its curriculum more closely on the needs of the industry. The upshot is that students are spending more time learning sophisticated technical and analytical skills that will pay off in agricultural careers. Wiltbank’s class, for instance, was developed to address one of the toughest challenges facing dairy farmers: the difficulty of breeding top-producing cows.

“We are finding more and more dairy herds with reproductive problems that are seriously affecting their bottom-line profitability,” says the professor.

During the semester, Wiltbank’s students master artificial insemination and use of ultrasound for monitoring reproductive status. They also learn how to synchronize cows’ breeding cycles to give herds the best chances of reproductive success.

“They really have to learn these skills,” says Wiltbank. In one class exam, for example, students have to inseminate three cows in 10 minutes. “It’s not just a matter of doing it once.”