High tech laboratories, peaceful gardens and historic landmarks were part of the Dodge County 4-Hers Ag Escape trip to the University of Wisconsin-Madison on Wednesday, July 23.
Nearly 40 participants learned about the many careers in agriculture and about unique research projects taking place on campus.
The tour began in the University's Poultry Research Lab where the youth learned about the extensive research that will benefit not only the poultry industry, but also human health.
Ron Kean, extension poultry specialist, began the tour by explaining, "Most of the work we do with the hens is for human medicine and nutrients."
Youth visited an area where broilers are being grown in cages. Broilers are chosen because they grow quickly. "We choose Cornish Rocks for research because they grow so fast we can see things," he said.
Other research includes using embryos from chickens to study fetal alcohol syndrome. The chickens in the experiment produce fertile eggs to be used for the studies.
While classes and research go on throughout the school year, they also continue in summer with students from 13 states currently enrolled.
"Companies pay for classes and then provide internships the rest of the summer," Kean explained.
As for career opportunities, he said there are a small number of students in the poultry program, so there are many job opportunities for graduates. Many of the jobs, however, are out of state.
Minnesota is the No. 1 state in turkey production, and Iowa is No. 1 for egg production. There are opportunities in Wisconsin, however, in the turkey business, pheasant business and in chicken broilers and egg. There are also opportunities in the processing and nutrition area of poultry production.
"The only problem I see is that in almost all of those jobs, you cannot have your own birds at home as a hobby," said Kean, who grew up with a backyard flock on a Nebraska farm. "It's a biosecurity issue, and it's not just company rules but it's federal law."
4-Hers then went on to the Dairy Cattle Center where 84 dairy cows are cared for and milked.
Tour guide Austin Prichard, Muskego, is a senior in the dairy science department and hopes to eventually work in dairy research. He is the student manager of this farm in the heart of the city and is also working with others on milk fever research.
While it was hot on the day of the tour, the newly renovated dairy barn was comfortable 72 degrees F inside with the evaporative cooling system and fans in the barn.
Students milk the cows in a D6 herringbone parlor. The parlor has large windows so that anyone visiting the UW campus can come in at any time and watch the milking procedures.
4-Hers had the opportunity to learn about feed digestibility studies with a hands-on activity that allowed them to reach inside the rumen of a cow.
Following the dairy tour, 4-Hers went on to the animal livestock laboratory to learn about the latest research in nutrition and diseases.
Dr. Dan Schaefer, department chair, explained that dairy goat farming is gaining in popularity, but there is little value to baby Billy goats that are born on the farms. There is a growing market for meat goats within the ethnic communities. Researchers are looking at ways to feed these male dairy goats to add value when selling to the meat market.
He said goats are also used in UW-Ag and Industry Short Course classes for teaching basic livestock care and management. "They are good for students with no livestock background. Sheep and goats are a good way to safely introduce young people to working with animals without getting hurt."
The swine section of the laboratory included pigs that were much different from any of the young visitors had seen. That's because they are swine that have genetics for high cholesterol.
Schaefer explained that of all animals, pigs have a physiology that most resembles that of a human being, so they are used for medical research that will benefit humans.
"We're developing products that will keep humans healthy, and these animals help in the process," he said.
"These pigs provide hands-on experience for students to learn physiology," Schaefer added.
The laboratory includes a surgery room, built in 1993. The room is used to evaluate medical devices and techniques.
"We are subject to very stringent oversight and protocol when we use animals," he said. " ... Students who work with animals take an animal user certified examination to assure the public that the welfare of the animals is always a priority."
Alexus Butler, Dodge County 4-H summer agent, organized the 4-H tour. She was involved with some research projects in this laboratory, including one that looked at the affect of rubber mats on feed lot floors. Students looked at joints on the animals on concrete floors and on rubber and also evaluated their behavior in each setting.
Schaefer and Butler shared ideas for career opportunities in livestock production and research.
Butler advised the youth to get involved with research once they get into college because there are numerous opportunities for learning and gaining experience.
"Get to know your professors," she said. "Talk with them about your interests. They will be able to help guide you."
Schafer said UW-Madison encourages internships and prepares students for the workplace. There are three basic tracks students follow once they are enrolled in the ag livestock program throughout the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.
Butler said while the UW system is very big, the agricultural campus in Madison is like a small friendly community. She suggests the best way to get to know other students with shared interests is to get involved with campus organizations like the Campus Farm Bureau, FFA, Badger Dairy Club and others.
The 4-Hers also visited the Babcock Hall Dairy Plant and sampled products in the popular dairy store.
More than 2 million pounds of milk are processed per year by the UW-Dairy Plant. The plant supplies dairy products to the UW campus.
The milk for the dairy plant comes from the 84 cows on the downtown campus, 500 cows at the Arlington Research Farm and from a few area farmers.
Attached to Babcock hall is the Center for Dairy Research, which is funded primarily through the dairy checkoff program.
CDR provides technical assistance to cheese and dairy product manufacturers, food companies and end users for new product development, research solutions, processing, training, short courses and start-ups.
A visit to the Entomology laboratory and museum helped the 4-Hers understand the importance of insects in agriculture. Learning to identify insects is important. While some may be invasive or damage crops or carry diseases, others are beneficial.
A final stop was at Allen Centennial Gardens where the 4-Hers learned about the wide variety of jobs available in the horticultural field.
Mike Maddox works with the Master Gardener Program in Madison through the UW-Extension. He involved the 4-Hers in an activity that helped them understand all the possibilities for careers in the horticulture area.
The tour was an eye-opener to many of the young people who had no idea how much research is taking place on a campus they had simply thought of as a school.
"Too often you're thinking of just the farmer in terms of an agricultural career," said Bonnie Borden, livestock youth development leader in Dodge County. "This trip helped illustrate a whole lot of other areas in agriculture and all the jobs involved in making it possible for farmers to grow food and also about the processing of the food.
"It particularly highlighted the great amount of research being done to benefit food production, health and safety, and to benefit farmers by finding better ways to raise their animals and their crops."