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New York university dairy offers real world skills for students

00:00AM Oct 05, 2008

A university dairy farm in New York State is teaching real-world skills to students.

Considered a learning center for the future of agriculture, the farm at State University of New York-Cobleskill (SUNY) was the focus of a Virtual Farm Tour at World Dairy Expo today.

Farm coordinator Tom Poltynski shared how students are milking 135 cows at the farm, while also tending to other livestock and crops. The farm is also involved in research projects, including a BASF feed trial study. The management team includes a veterinarian, nutritionists and a manure management specialist, in addition to Poltynski. Fourteen part-time students help out with milking and harvesting.

In the area of "green” pursuits, the dairy composts its manure. It's also involved in a project to grow switch grass that will be converted to wood pellets that can be burned for energy use.

"This [farm] gives students the opportunity to do all the things they need to do when they go get jobs,” Dr. Michael McCaskey, dean of the school, said via a video link in today's presentation.

The herd is 90% Holstein with a rolling herd average of 26,600 pounds. The dairy struggles with a somatic cell count of between 200,000 and 300,000.

"With the wide variety of students and skill levels, protocols are not always followed,” Poltynski acknowledged.

Changes can't always be made quickly since the farm has to go through several layers of approval for spending, he added. The school is funded by a combination of tuition and taxpayer dollars.

One change the dairy was able to make, however, was to invest in rubber flooring mats. Those replaced slick floors that had contributed to a cull rate of 42 percent. Today, that number has dropped to 22 percent, said Poltynski.

Students in a variety of majors and degrees can earn credits toward two- and four-year programs while working at the dairy.

Catherine Merlo is Western editor for Dairy Today. You can reach her at