School of Agriculture launches dairy science major

Alison Parkins
Special Contributor


For more than a century, the University of Wisconsin-Platteville’s School of Agriculture has prepared students for careers in a growing and diverse field. It will continue that tradition this fall as it rolls out the new dairy science major.

Dr. Tera Montgomery, associate professor and coordinator of the Animal Science program at UW-Platteville, works with students in the Dairy Products Lab on campus.
Students study in the calf pen at UW-Platteville Pioneer Farm.

The School of Agriculture has offered a dairy science emphasis, as a part of the animal science major, for more than 30 years. Enrollment in this emphasis has grown about 50 percent in the last 10 years.

“Agriculture contributes $88.3 billion annually to Wisconsin’s economy,” said Dr. Wayne Weber, dean of the College of Business, Industry, Life Science and Agriculture. “With dairy products being the primary agricultural commodity, as America’s Dairyland, the dairy science major is a timely addition to our strong and strategic program array in the School of Agriculture.”

“Since making a commitment to developing a major and showing we value it, the industry – more than ever before – is excited to work together and do some unique things that we haven’t seen in other states,” said Dr. Tera Montgomery, associate professor and coordinator of the Animal Science program at UW-Platteville.

Industry partners were crucial in shaping the curriculum for the new major, especially the School of Agriculture’s Advisory Council, which is made entirely of alumni in the agriculture field. “We were really able to bounce ideas off of people who had the level of understanding that we needed, and who are vested in this,” said Montgomery.

Other alumni and companies have also reached out to offer help in the launch of the new major. “A lot of alumni and companies have said, ‘What can we do to help? We want to make sure our company is helping to invest in the future of the industry,’” said Montgomery.

The Dairy Science program will offer a number of hands-on learning experiences for students, especially with the new Adopt-a-Heifer program. When students enter the Dairy Science program they will be assigned an animal to follow throughout the course of their schooling. They will be responsible for understanding what vaccinations are given, tracking colostrum levels and more.

They will also have the opportunity to make recommendations for decisions on the heifer, such as decisions about breeding. Students will put the recommendations in a presentation form, though the ultimate decision will still rest with the dairy enterprise manager. “These are the types of decisions they’ll make in the real world, so we’re trying to make a microcosm of that experience,” said Montgomery.

The new major will also boost support of the Dairy Judging Team, Dairy Challenge Team and the Pioneer Dairy Club, which supports many philanthropic activities.

Each year, the club holds a consignment sale, with part of the proceeds going towards fundraising for a chosen cause. Community participation in this sale has more than doubled in the past 15 years, with 30 head of dairy cattle sold in 2000 and more than 70 in 2015.

The first students with the new dairy science major are expected to graduate this December, and according to Montgomery, the job outlook is positive. The Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development predicts a steady increase in employment in all agriculture sectors – with the greatest growth occurring in food production, of which dairy is a critical component.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates there will be 5 percent increase in available career positions in animal and food science – categories that include dairy science – through 2022.

"We are very excited to offer this new program to Wisconsin residents as well as our tri-state neighbors residing in Illinois and Iowa,” said Dr. Michael Compton, director of the UW-Platteville School of Agriculture. “This major will allow us to more effectively develop and train students for careers in the dairy industry, a division of agriculture in which continued growth and need for new professionals is expected. We are also encouraged by the excitement expressed in this program by the dairy industry and their willingness to support and invest into our efforts to make the new dairy science major something special. Lastly, I thank Dr. Tera Montgomery for her leadership in bringing the concept for this new program into fruition."