Not one, not two, but three majors for Hoffman

By Jim Massey, Freelance writer

When Isaiah Hoffman came to the University of Wisconsin-Madison from his home state of Pennsylvania, he basically had no interest in returning to his family’s farm to pursue a career as a dairy farmer. But it didn’t take him long to change his mind.

 Hoffman, a junior in the Animal and Dairy Sciences Department, grew up on a small dairy farm in Pennsylvania, a 100-acre farm his parents bought in 50-acre increments in 1999 in 2017.  

Animal and Dairy Sciences Department student Isaiah Hoffman pours a bottle of freshly homogenized drinkable yogurt at the Dairy Center for Research on the UW–Madison campus.

Because the farm is small – his family is currently milking 60 cows with one robot – he didn’t see much career potential or room for expansion.

The robotic milking system sparked an interest in computer science, however, so that was what he intended to major in when he began searching for colleges to attend. His mother, a Wisconsin native, encouraged him to include UW–Madison on the list of schools he was applying to.

He eventually made the decision to venture to Wisconsin and hasn’t looked back.

“The adjustment to Madison was pretty easy,” he says. “Starting college away from home is brand new, you’re on your own. But it wasn’t a bad adjustment. I enjoyed it a lot.”

During the summer before his freshman year, Hoffman secured a job as a student manager at the UW–Madison Dairy Cattle Center, which offered him a free place to live. That was when he got hooked on the dairy program and decided to add dairy science as a second major.

“The dairy science program changed my mind about dairy,” he says. “Now that I have learned a bunch of new things I have decided to go home and run the dairy farm, and I think it can be profitable by changing some management practices.”

While working in dairy processing at the Center for Dairy Research as a sophomore, Hoffman decided he needed more of a chemistry background, so he added major number three. 

“I have always had an interest in digesters and processing waste – that’s another thing we do back home, we take food waste from local companies,” he says. “We don’t have a digester now, but I want to build a digester to expand the amount of waste we can take and process it.”

His family received a grant to build a large manure pit when it added the robotic milking system in 2011, so the food waste has been taking up residence in that pit. Hoffman says the money derived from taking in the food waste has helped keep the dairy farm afloat.

While at the UW Hoffman is investigating how to make the dairy farm more profitable when he returns, considering how many cows to milk and whether a manure digester and taking in more food waste will help his bottom line.

He also hopes to process milk from his farm into drinkable yogurt, ice cream or fried cheese curds. His family’s farm is located along a busy highway in a booming population area, he says, so that should help bring potential customers to his front door.

“I think cheese curds would be a big hit,” he says. “Back home you can’t hardly find them. They’re not a thing in Pennsylvania.”

His future plan on the farm is to switch to a composted bedded pack in hopes of keeping his cows alive and milking longer. The dairy management classes have provided him with good information when it comes to designing barns, another thing that has helped convince him he can go back to Pennsylvania and operate a profitable dairy farm.

He might even design his own robots someday, Hoffman says.

Back home in Pennsylvania, Isaiah Hoffman enjoys showing dairy animals with his younger brother, Ethan.

“The (mainstream company) robots are nice but they’re also very expensive,” he says. “I’ve been thinking about how I might develop a robot that is less costly per unit and can milk more cows per hour. With my computer science knowledge I can design circuit boards. I may end up installing something that I design. We’ll see.”

Hoffman earned a Farrington Award after his freshman year, for a project designed to track milking procedures in the milking parlor. 

“We were working on using algorithms and taking video footage of me milking in the parlor,” he says. “The idea was for a milker to wear a headset with a camera to make sure he follows every procedure and keep steps from being missed. If a cow kicks a machine off across the parlor and the milker comes back to the cow he was working on before, we wanted to make sure a procedure wasn’t skipped.”

Hoffman has also worked at the World Dairy Expo and in the processing plant at the Center for Dairy Research. He is planning to have an internship at the CDR next year.

During his free time Hoffman is a member of the Collegiate Farm Bureau – he is currently the club treasurer – and is also involved in the Badger Dairy Club, Badger Crops Club and a computer science club that focuses on web development.

Hoffman expects he will have two more years of college after this one, as it will take him five years to earn three majors. Of all the classes he has taken so far, Hoffman has most enjoyed his dairy management classes and the analytical chemistry class he is in the middle of this semester. 

His stacked class schedule keeps him busy from day to day, so Hoffman says he has to stay focused on what he has coming up each week.

“I usually work early mornings before classes, go to classes, and then have two or three hours every night during the week to do homework,” he says. “On weekends I do a lot of homework to prepare for the week ahead to make sure I get everything done.” 

Hoffman is convinced he made the right choice by coming to UW–Madison.“I’m convinced it’s the best,” he says. “I think Cornell (the college both of his parents attended) would be the only other (dairy science) program that would rival it.”