Though UW-Madison is well-known for its Babcock milk and ice cream, many students don’t know where their dairy products come from.
In fact, a portion of the milk used to make Babcock Hall’s ice cream, bottled milk and cheese comes from the Department of Dairy Science’s Dairy Cattle Center — a campus facility that is home to 84 cows.
“The cool thing about this is that it’s right in the middle of downtown Madison,” said Dairy Cattle Center student manager Caleb Hamm. “I think it would be nice for more people to actually know that because it is pretty cool that we have cows on campus.”
Despite saying that agriculture often has a negative reputation because of a focus on animal cruelty in mass media, Hamm said he knows the cows are happy and healthy because of the amount of milk that they have been producing.
“There’s a lot of people who may think milking cows is bad,” he said. “But actually, we’re open to the public. They can come and see that we’re taking awesome care of these cattle.”
According to the Department of Dairy Science website, the Dairy Cattle Center offers daily tours to educate the public about the cows and the milking process, and the facility is used by UW-Madison faculty for both teaching and research purposes.
Hamm and the Dairy Cattle Center’s other student manager, Morgan Meilicke, said they hope the university will generate more awareness of the facility by creating outreach efforts to the public.
“When people come to this side of campus, they can definitely smell animals,” Meilicke said. “But as far as people realizing that there is a completely functioning dairy farm on campus, that usually comes as a surprise to them.”
However, Meilicke said she worries that some people may react negatively or think that a factory production system is not a healthy environment for the cows.
“When people come into our facility, they see there’s a lot of concrete. But that doesn’t mean that our cows are unhappy or poorly taken care of,” she said. “Everything that we do, we do intentionally for the health and well-being of the animals that we have.”
Milked twice daily by a milking machine — which is operated by student workers — the cows produce anywhere from 3,000 to 7,000 pounds of milk per day, according to Meilicke.
Hamm said the milk is stored in a tank and sent across the street to the Babcock Hall Dairy Plant, where the milk is then processed and pasteurized into the university’s Babcock Hall dairy products.
The facility is mainly run by 12 student workers with the guidance of a manager, which offers them the opportunity to gain hands-on experience in a dairy production system, Meilicke said.
Along with milking, student workers are assigned to other tasks, such as cleaning the cows’ stalls, feeding the cows and performing basic veterinary care. The student managers are also provided with housing in the Dairy Cattle Center.
“Cows require around-the-clock attention,” Meilicke said. “It makes it a lot easier because we can just go downstairs and take care of the cows, then go right back upstairs and go to bed.”
Although she said some have reservations about promoting the Dairy Cattle Center to the public because of negative connotations about factories, Meilicke said she thinks it’s important for people to know about the university’s dairy production process.
“I think in general more people should know where their food comes from and how it’s made,” Meilicke said. “The workers at the Dairy Cattle Center know it's our job to teach and educate, and we’re going to do our best to make sure the cows have a happy, healthy life.”