U.S. Dairy Forage Research Center (USDFRC)

  • Description
  • About Us

    The U.S. Dairy For­age Research Cen­ter is one of about 100 units in the Agri­cul­tural Research Ser­vice (ARS) of the U.S. Depart­ment of Agri­cul­ture (USDA). We’re the only USDA-​ARS unit with the mis­sion of improv­ing for­age use by dairy cattle.

    Our Research

    At the U.S. Dairy For­age Research cen­ter we are:

    • Design­ing for­ages that lose less pro­tein when har­vested and stored;
    • improv­ing meth­ods for har­vest­ing and stor­ing for­ages to cap­ture and retain more nutrients;
    • deter­min­ing how the cow best uti­lizes those valu­able nutri­ents in forages;
    • reduc­ing the amount of nutri­ents, such as nitro­gen and phos­pho­rous, that are lost to the environment;
    • trans­fer­ring our knowl­edge of for­ages and rumi­nal fer­men­ta­tion to the emerg­ing bioen­ergy field.

    Our Scientists

    To solve prob­lems that are national in scope, we take a mul­ti­dis­ci­pli­nary approach to our research — dairy and for­age together. You can’t improve a plant with­out know­ing how it works in the cow. Our sci­en­tists have dif­fer­ent areas of exper­tise, and they work together to make sure all bases are cov­ered, from soil to milk.

    Our research team is led by 21 scientists:

    • 6 dairy scientists
    • 3 agron­o­mists
    • 3 soil scientists
    • 2 agri­cul­tural engineers
    • 2 plant geneticists
    • 2 plant physiologists
    • 2 micro­bi­ol­o­gists
    • 1 chemist

    Our Mission

    To develop knowl­edge and tools to enhance sus­tain­able and com­pet­i­tive dairy for­age sys­tems that pro­tect the envi­ron­ment, pro­mote ani­mal health, and ensure a safe, healthy food supply.

    Research for Today’s Challenges

    Major areas of empha­sis for research include:

    • Iden­ti­fy­ing cell wall fac­tors that limit digestibil­ity and for­age uti­liza­tion in dairy cat­tle in order to increase the energy avail­able from forages;
    • com­plet­ing a sys­tem that will pro­vide site-​specific nutri­tive val­ues for feeds, tak­ing into account such fac­tors as crop grow­ing con­di­tions and meth­ods of har­vest, not just chem­i­cal analysis;
    • inte­grat­ing crop, pas­ture, and manure man­ag­ment and study­ing how they impact the socio-​economic and envi­ron­men­tal aspects of dairy for­age systems;
    • cre­at­ing value-​added prod­ucts from plant mate­ri­als in order to increase the amount of envi­ron­men­tally friendly for­age that is grown in the U.S. and to help cre­ate sus­tain­able jobs in the rural sector;
    • max­i­miz­ing pro­tein effi­ciency in dairy pro­duc­tion to improve dairy farm prof­its and reduce the amount of nitro­gen being added to the environment;
    • design­ing for­age plants with enhanced value for dairy pro­duc­tion, prof­itabil­ity, and sus­tain­abil­ity — plants that will reduce pro­tein degra­da­tion dur­ing har­vest and ensil­ing and enhance intake and digestibil­ity in the cow.

    The USD­FRC Farm

    The U.S Dairy For­age Research Cen­ter Farm is located about 30 miles north­west of Madi­son on gen­tly slop­ing acres bor­der­ing the Wis­con­sin River near Prairie du Sac, WI. The farm is an inte­gral part of the research effort, allow­ing sci­en­tists to con­duct a wide range of research scaled from large fields and the whole herd down to tiny field plots and indi­vid­ual cows.

    UW Connection

    The farm oper­ates jointly with the Uni­ver­sity of Wis­con­sin – Madi­son Col­lege of Agri­cul­tural and Life Sci­ences, Agri­cul­tural Research Sta­tions. The UW owns the dairy herd and uses rev­enues from the farm to off­set oper­at­ing costs and to pay the state employ­ees who work at the farm. The dairy herd and research facil­ity are also avail­able for research by UW-​Madison agri­cul­tural scientists.

    Crops and Plots

    Most of the 2,006 acres at the farm pro­duce feed for the dairy herd. In turn, the fields are fer­til­ized by manure from the dairy herd in a nat­ural cycle. Large fields are also used to study crop­ping sys­tems and manure man­age­ment. Small research plots are used to grow lesser amounts of for­ages for use in var­i­ous graz­ing, agro­nomic, and feed­ing experiments.

    • 541 acres corn for grain and silage
    • 340 acres alfalfa
    • 310 acres soybeans
    • 235 acres pasture
    • 90 acres win­ter wheat
    • 40 acres small research plots
    • 450 acres woodlands
    • Total = 2,006 acres

    The Herd

    There are about 350 lac­tat­ing cows on the farm. Live­stock hous­ing includes both tie-​stall and free-​stall barns which serve dif­fer­ent research needs and rep­re­sent facil­i­ties being used in the indus­try. Cows are milked in a double-​8 her­ring­bone par­lor with auto­matic take-​offs and indi­vid­ual milk weights. Cows in free-​stall barns are fed from a TMR (total mixed ration) wagon. In the tie-​stall barns, sev­eral small TMR carts are used to mix and deliver research diets to selected cows. The farm raises all of its replace­ments. New­born calves are housed in indi­vid­ual calf hutches and moved to group hutches at eight weeks. At four-​five months of age, heifers are moved to a free-​stall barn where they remain until con­firmed preg­nant. Preg­nant heifers are pas­tured in the sum­mer and kept on a bed­ded pack in the winter.

    Cur­rent milk production

    • 2x rolling herd aver­age (as of May, 2013)
    • 27,279 lbs. milk
    • 3.75% fat
    • 3.04% pro­tein

    Research Efforts

    At any given time there may be 15 – 25 dif­fer­ent research projects being con­ducted at the farm. The research falls into four main categories:

    • Under­stand­ing how dairy cows digest and uti­lize forages;
    • improv­ing for­ages so they are bet­ter used by dairy cows;
    • improv­ing meth­ods of har­vest­ing and stor­ing forages;
    • and study­ing the impact of dairy sys­tems on the envi­ron­ment to help dairy farm­ers know the best ways to pro­tect the envi­ron­ment and effi­ciently recy­cle the nutri­ents in manure — from crop to cow to manure and back to the crop.

    Unique Heritage

    Efforts to estab­lish a USDA dairy research facil­ity date back to the late 1950s. But it wasn’t until the 1970s when plan­ning began for this facil­ity and Con­gress appro­pri­ated the funds. Con­struc­tion of the farm facil­i­ties began in 1980; this same year the first ani­mals were brought to the farm.

    The land on which this farm is located has a rich and unique his­tory. First inhab­ited by Native Amer­i­cans, Euro­pean set­tlers began turn­ing it into farm­land in the 1830s. Then, at the dawn of the U.S. entry into World War II, the Depart­ment of Defense con­fis­cated the land from 80 farm fam­i­lies in order to build a muni­tions fac­tory. Known as the Bad­ger Army Ord­nance and later the Bad­ger Army Ammu­ni­tion Plant (BAAP), the facil­ity man­u­fac­tured gun and rocket pow­der dur­ing World War II, the Korean War, and the Viet­nam War. It was put on standby sta­tus in 1976.

    When the USDA was look­ing for a site for this research farm, it obtained a spe­cial per­mit through the U.S. Depart­ment of Defense to farm about 1,500 acres of the 7,354-acre BAAP site for 20 years at no cost. In 1999 the USDA started mak­ing lease pay­ments. And in Sep­tem­ber of 2004, the USDA received cus­tody of 1,943 acres of the BAAP.


    Phone +1.608.890-0079

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