Dairy Innovation Hub funds spur Dairy Cattle Center facelift 

What: Open house and ice cream social at newly renovated welcoming space at UW–Madison Dairy Cattle Center.

Where: 1875 Linden Dr., Madison.

When: Wednesday, May 1, noon to 2 p.m. 

Information: Maria Woldt, maria.woldt@wisc.edu

By Jim Massey, Freelance writer

When the UW–Madison Dairy Cattle Center (DCC) was renovated in 2013, project organizers had envisioned including a welcoming space that would offer educational programming and be visually appealing.

But as the $3 million project was being completed, it was decided that renovating the cattle and educational spaces would receive top priority, and when the funds ran out, the lobby renovation got put on the back burner.

Enter Kate VandenBosch, dean of the UW–Madison College of Agricultural and Life Sciences from 2012 to 2022, who brought sprucing up the lobby area back to the top of the priority list. As dean of one of the three universities involved in the Dairy Innovation Hub – a joint dairy research program of UW–Madison, UW–River Falls and UW–Platteville – VandenBosch proposed using Hub funds to reimagine the DCC lobby area as a way to make the space more inviting for students, staff and visitors. When VandenBosch stepped down as dean in 2022, incoming CALS dean Glenda Gillaspy fully supported the project.

The three college deans – CALS in Madison, the College of Agriculture, Food and Environmental Sciences at UW–River Falls and the College of Business, Industry, Life Science and Agriculture at UW–Platteville –have discretionary oversight of projects they have a particular interest in on their campuses, and they agreed on the DCC project as a good use of a small portion of the $7.8 million allocated across the three universities each year for Hub programs.

Maria Woldt, program manager for the Hub, says planning started for the project about two years ago and was just completed in February. An ice cream social is planned for May 1 to unveil the spruced-up space to alumni and friends, students and department employees.

“This welcoming space really will serve as a gateway not only to the barn but will also showcase dairy in Wisconsin,” Woldt says. “The displays celebrate the history of why Wisconsin is the dairy state – what happened here from a research standpoint that established Wisconsin as a place for dairy.”

From the days of Dr. Steven Babcock’s groundbreaking butterfat test, which paved the way for future dairy research at the UW, to W.D. Hoard introducing the alfalfa plant to Wisconsin, and all the way to current research being conducted at the university, the lobby displays showcase some of the historical accomplishments and next-generation groundbreaking developments that have taken place on the campus. 

Realizing that a lot of school groups tour the DCC, basic dairy facts were incorporated into the space as well. 

Woldt and recently retired faculty instructor Ted Halbach did much of the planning for the project, which Woldt says was a bit of a challenge.

“It’s been a long process because No. 1, I’ve never built a museum before,” she says. “It was a new endeavor for me. And on campus there are a lot of layers of rules you must follow, and that was new territory to me, too.”

Woldt says they used the relatively new Farm Wisconsin in Manitowoc to come up with examples of what’s possible from an educational standpoint, and employed the same designer who made display improvements at the Dairy Farmers of Wisconsin headquarters on Madison’s west side. 

“We knew we wanted it to be a study space for students, a welcome space for visitors, and an educational installation for tour groups,” Woldt says. “When they renovated the barn in 2013 they had some ideas of things they wanted to include in a space like this, but I don’t think anyone thought of it going the way we have gone with it.”

The DCC includes an 84-stall barn, home to some of the Department of Animal and Dairy Sciences research herd. Visitors are welcome to observe cows in the milking parlor during certain days and times. The second floor houses classrooms, a meeting room and living space for the student managers of the dairy. The DCC serves as an instructional and research facility for the Department of Animal and Dairy Sciences, the School of Veterinary Medicine, the Farm and Industry Short Course, and the U.S. Dairy Forage Center. About 15 courses are taught at the DCC during a typical academic year. 

The DCC was built in 1956 to replace the original dairy barn built in 1898. A 2013 renovation updated feed storage, milking facilities, ventilation and living conditions for the cattle, and in 2017, the classroom and locker room spaces were renovated.

The Dairy Innovation Hub has funded more than 200 research projects on the three campuses since it was initiated in 2020.