PULLMAN, Wash. — Knott Dairy Center at Washington State University serves as a teaching and research laboratory for students as well as a working dairy typically milking 180 cows.
The milk goes to Ferdinand’s — WSU’s creamery — to be made into Cougar Gold cheese and other dairy products. Students participate in the operation of the dairy and Ferdinand’s. Many of the students are in the School of Food Science and will later work as scientists for food manufacturers.
Ferdinand’s Ice Cream Shoppe sells the traditional cans of cheese along with ready-to-eat pieces and a variety of ice cream products prepared and served the same way for more than 50 years. Many generations of WSU students have worked their way through college serving ice cream.
Amber Adams-Progar, an extension dairy faculty member, says the Knott Dairy Center was started because Washington ranks in the top 10 states for dairy production. The dairy was originally on campus and moved to the Knott Dairy Center in 1962.
“We have a registered purebred Holstein herd, but there are very few dairies in this area of eastern Washington. One of our challenges is access to feed; it is expensive because it must be transported long distances,” Amber said.
Celina Matuk Sarinana, the dairy manager, says it usually costs an additional $20-$45 per ton to have feed delivered, depending on where it comes from.
“We are now reaching out to local hay growers and hope to work with them,” she said.
“I’ve only been dairy manager for 2½ years. The first year, some of our alfalfa came from Ontario, Ore. We buy barley and grass hay locally. Our grains come through the WSU feed mill, which prepares premixes for our cows, working with our dairy nutrition consultant,” she said.
The dairy provides hands-on learning opportunities for students.
“Several classes take place here. Students get the chance to work with calves, learn about milk quality, practice milking cows, perform physical exams on cows and learn about reproduction, etc. It helps them apply what they learn in the classroom,” Celina said.
Students with advanced training practice AI, veterinary students practice physical exams and veterinary assistance for cows, guided by the senior veterinarian.
Amber says the research faculty conducts studies on calves, heifers, dry cows and lactating cows.
In terms of teaching, this dairy developed the first hands-on cooperative for students. The Cooperative University Dairy Students group, — CUDS — manages and owns a herd of about 35 cows at the center, and members are responsible for all aspects of herd care. The co-op was started 44 years ago with 6 students from dairy backgrounds.
“They pooled some money to start the co-op, bought about 20 cows, and started making the management decisions for those cows,” she said.
“Currently the CUDS group has about 14 members — all undergraduates — and most of them are Animal Science majors. The co-op owns the animals so the members have a vested interest.”
Responsibilities include milking, feeding, calving, monitoring herd statistics and chore shifts, and each member holds a position relating to different areas of the dairy industry.
“This was the first co-op of its kind in the U.S. Currently there are a couple others in the East, but CUDS in Washington was the original,” Amber said.
Many people working in the dairy industry today went to WSU and were CUDS members or worked at the Knott Dairy Center.
Most of the employees at the dairy are students, though this can be a challenge because their class schedules are always changing. During summer, some of the CUDS students go home or have summer jobs elsewhere.
The dairy has four regular employees and currently has 12 students who are part-time employees working 8 to 12 hours each week.
“We give this opportunity to Animal Science students who want to gain more experience working around cows. For students who want to go to vet school, their time at the dairy shows they’ve done hands-on work with large animals. Some of them already know they want to go into dairying — so it is like the best job ever, for them,” Celina said.
Usually they come to work at the dairy in their second or third year of college, and after they graduate they leave, but there are always new students coming in. Some stay to work at the dairy during summer.
“If they go home they have to be looking for a job, but if they like dairying they may prefer to just stay here and keep working,” Celina said.