Organic Dairy Research Farm

banner: COLSA Insight: Newsletter of the College of Life Sciences & Agriculture

Organic Dairy Research Farm

Got boots? Ph.D. student Matt Smith stands at the construction site of the new composting system.

This fall, we broke ground at the Organic Dairy Research Farm for the construction of an aerobic digestion research facility that will capture the metabolic heat from microbes as they compost combined bedding, manure, and urine wastes. This new pole barn will have four bays, each split for two treatment areas, used for testing compost mixes and treatments for overall quality, optimal nutrient balance, and heat recovery. Read more about it in Quite a Spread.

Elsewhere on the farm, renovations continued throughout the summer to improve the calf barn and provide our heifers with a healthier environment from birth through one year of age. We anticipate moving our young stock into their new housing very soon.

As the first organic dairy at a Land Grant university, our facility provides an opportunity to conduct studies with important applications for farmers and producers in the region. Our rolling herd average for the past year was 13,307 pounds of milk, with 4.7% butterfat and 3.5% protein.

This year’s completed and ongoing research includes: 

  • The development of a new aerobic digester facility to test different treatments for spent bedding, manure, and waste hay to find the best ways to make the highest-grade compost while getting the largest amount of heat capture.
  • Using the Organic Dairy Research Farm as a model system for measuring greenhouse gases, crop productivity, soil nutrient cycling, and manure management in a project called Greenhouse Gas Emissions in the Transition from Traditional to Organic Dairy Farming: An Educational and Research Collaboration. The measurements used will help calibrate the biogeochemical model, Manure-DNDC, which will be linked to a web-based tool that farmers, policy makers, and other stakeholders can use to make management decisions that maximize productivity and minimize nutrient losses.
  • A study in feeding supplemental kelp meal to lactating cows to determine its effect on cow performance, health, and overall farm productivity.
  • An investigation into low-input approaches for intercropping feed grains in living pasture through measuring changes in plant community composition and abundance, and grain crop production. The goal of this work is to develop approaches for on-farm supplemental grain and silage production with minimal environmental impact.
  • A USDA OREI Program-funded study of the growth, productivity, stability, and nutritional quality of perennial ryegrass swards with targeted augmentation of strand-level genotypic diversity. Research for the project, Assisting Organic Dairy Producers to Meet the Demands of New and Emerging Milk Markets, is being conducted concurrently in Pennsylvania, Maine, and Vermont.

In addition, faculty from the College of Life Sciences and Agriculture (COLSA) and other units across the University use the farm as a teaching tool for field trips in courses including, but not limited to: 

  • Introduction to Animal Science
  • CREAM
  • Animals and Society
  • Large Animal Behavior and Handling
  • Introduction to Dairy Herd Management
  • Introduction to Forages and Grassland Management
  • The Real Dirt
  • Dairy Cattle Selection
  • Equipment and Facilities Management
  • Dairy Cattle Disease Seminar
  • Aquatic Ecosystems
  • Water

Outreach is an important component of the Organic Dairy Research Farm. We continue to host Stonyfield Farm employees on a regular basis and are pleased that many community members enjoy spending time here to visit with the cows and heifers in the barns and out on pasture.

Victoria Forester Courtland
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