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Morris, Minnesota WCROC Has
Unique Dairy Research Effort

By Carol Stender

Added January 24, 2009. The West Central Research and Outreach Center will be the only research facility in the country to compare both organic and conventional herds at its research site.

WCROC is transitioning 70 to 80 cows to organic production, said center dairy specialist Dennis Johnson. The center has about 100 cows in its conventional low-input herd.

“We will have two separate herds and two separate bulk tanks,” he said.

It takes one year to transition a dairy herd to organic, Johnson said. The transition includes lactating cows and heifers.

“There is an active organic community in Minnesota that has been en-couraging this,” Johnson said. “We’ve been talking about this for some time.”

The Legislature and University of Minnesota developed the financial support and with encouragement by College of Food, Agriculture and Natural Resource Sciences Dean Al Levine and Extension director Bev Durgan. A program for organic research, teaching and outreach was developed.

WCROC, in response to the organic community’s call for more research, applied for grants a few years ago and began developing its program.

Most of the herd’s organic forage will come from Stevens County organic producers Craig Murphy, Mark Fitzgerald and Mark Lampert and from Moorhead-area organic producer Lynne Brekke. Grain will be purchased from the Buckwheat Growers in Wadena.

Organic alfalfa and six pounds of organic grain, kelp and a mineral mix makes up the lactating transition herd’s diet.

The center will transition a quarter section of land to organic crops over the next three years. Research of the two systems will include monitoring inputs and studying udder health. Milk samples have been taken every three months on the entire herd by Timna Wykoff, biology professor at the University of Minnesota-Morris. The samples will determine the presence of mastitis causing micro-organisms.

“If there’s a change in the profile with the number of clinical cases of mastitis, we will know,” he said.

Holstein and Montbeliarde, Jersey and Holstein crosses make up the low-input conventional grazing herd managed under conventional nutrition and health care. The breeding program is changing to replace the Jersey genetics with Scandinavian Red, a mix of Swedish, Finnish, Norwegian and Danish breeding.

Antibiotics are no longer used in the transitioning herd except to alleviate pain and suffering. Once a cow has been treated with antibiotics, it must be removed from the organic herd, Johnson said.
Before the program can become certified organic, it must be inspected and meet organic production criteria, Johnson said.

The University of New Hampshire and California’s Chico State University each have organic herds, but no university has both conventional and organic animals at the same facility.

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