COLUMBIA, Mo. — On a typical day on the University of Missouri’s Foremost Dairy Research Center, a farm donated by a famous retailer and named for a famous bull, students learn through hands-on experience, and researchers tackle key questions facing the industry.
“The two things we tend to focus on are reproduction and different levels of nutrition,” says John Denbigh, the research center’s superintendent.
He says researchers at the center also do some work with mastitis and milk quality.
In 1952, James Cash Penney, a Missouri native who founded J.C. Penney stores, donated the money for the university to purchase 819 acres. He also donated a herd of prize-winning Guernsey cows.
The research farm was named after Penney’s beloved bull, Langwater Foremost.
Penney, who was the son of a farmer and grew up at Hamilton, Mo., paid $20,000 for the Foremost bull in the 1920s, an astonishing amount at the time.
Denbigh says MU had a herd of Holstein cows at a different location at the time, and then in 1970s they moved the Holsteins to the Foremost dairy center, which is located west of Columbia. The research center still has Guernseys and Holsteins.
Today, the farm has four full-time employees, faculty and graduate students on-site conducting research and 10 to 15 part-time undergraduate students working on the farm. These students get to do a variety of tasks to learn about a working dairy farm, including assisting with milking, mixing feed diets and fixing fence. Denbigh says many of the students are planning on going to vet school and are wanting to learn more about dairy cattle.
“My typical student is from St. Louis or Kansas City, wants to go to vet school and hasn’t worked with a dairy cow yet,” he says.
Denbigh says the experience helps students looking to study in a variety of fields learn what happens on a daily basis on a dairy farm and also helps them understand some of the terminology. He says it means a lot for the university to have a working dairy so close to campus.
“We’re the only dairy in the county, basically,” Denbigh says.
The research center provides hands-on learning for animal science students and vet school students who can treat cattle or preg check cows.
“It provides a great lab for the students who are in vet school,” he says. “We have a really good working relationship with the college of veterinary medicine.”
Denbigh, who has worked at the Foremost Dairy Research Center for over 30 years, says he most enjoys working with the students, as well as working to improve the genetics of the herd, which goes back to the research center’s founding as a purebred herd.
“I enjoy that both the Guernseys and the Holsteins are registered herds,” he says. “I enjoy the breeding process and the genetic part of the herd, how it relates to both milk production and the physical makeup. I enjoy the students.”
Joe Horner, an MU Extension dairy specialist, says a lot of people in the dairy industry have learned and studied at the research center through the years.
“You’ve got to respect the things they have going on out there,” he says.