For those who regularly drive outside of the downtown State College area, cows roaming green pastures isn’t an unusual sight.
It may be surprising to learn that most of the milk and other dairy served on Penn State’s campus comes from these cows.
The Penn State Dairy Barns are located just steps from Beaver Stadium and are home to approximately 500 animals.
Complete with at least eight different facilities, the barns aspire to teach those interested in agriculture and caring for animals.
Officially titled the Dairy Research and Education Center, the facility focuses greatly on agricultural research, according to student employee Katerina Coffman.
“The Dairy Barns’ purpose is to do research that's going to better equip industry leaders with emerging technologies that we can use to better manage our animals so that they're more comfortable and profitable in a sense of producing more milk or more components that we can turn into products,” Coffman (sophomore-animal science) said.
Coffman also said education is another priority of the Dairy Barns.
“Most kids are three to four generations removed from a family farm or any type of agricultural background,” Coffman said. “For a lot of students who are looking at going to [veterinary] school or working with animals because they love them, they need some sort of place where they can practice and be equipped with the skill set that they need.”
Co-manager of Penn State Dairy Barns Nadine Houck said student education and the work done at the barns are intertwined.
“Dairy management classes do hands-on labs out here, learning how to care for dairy cows and being taught the science that goes into feeding dairy cows,” Houck said. “Animal science classes and even food science classes will come out here for tours.”
For the employees of the Dairy Barns, the morning shift begins at 5 a.m., according to Houck.
“All the cows get fed in the morning,” Houck said. “Our crew comes in and begins milking. We milk a herd of 230 Holstein dairy cattle.”
After the process of feeding and milking is finished, Houck said employees complete other necessary tasks, such as cleaning barns, performing maintenance on equipment or preparing feed for the next day.
Houck said the barns usually quiet down around 9 p.m., but some employees aren’t off the clock just yet.
“We do have students that live here at the facility. Eight students live in dorms above the main office,” Houck said. “One of them comes out at 11 p.m. and does a walk-through, checks all the barns and makes sure everything’s OK.”
Student employee Mason Nas is one of the eight students who live at the Dairy Barns.
“There was a senior in the Dairy Science Club that I got talking with, and he told me that there’s an opening at the Dairy Barns to live and work there,” Nas (sophomore-plant science) said. “I was interested in that opportunity of living here along with working here.”
Nas said he has a farm background and has worked in the dairy industry for about 10 years. When deciding to work at the Dairy Barns, he said he wanted to continue that work and further his knowledge of dairy production and herd management.
Nas said he “helps out a little bit everywhere” at the Dairy Barns, doing chores like milking and moving cows, feeding calves and giving vaccines.
“I’ve learned a lot about dairy farming and herd management,” Nas said. “[The Dairy Barns] give people insight on what goes on at a dairy farm — not only here at Penn State but across the state. It teaches people about raising dairy cattle and the care for them and what all is involved in getting milk from the cow to their table.”
Houck said the milk produced at the Dairy Barns is found throughout the Penn State community.
“About half to two-thirds of the milk that we produce here goes to the [Berkey Creamery] on campus,” Houck said. “That is the milk in the dining halls and used to make ice cream that the Creamery produces.”
Coffman said she feels like her “truest self” when she walks into the Dairy Barns.
“With Penn State being such a large campus, it was important for me to find a place that I could kind of call my own,” Coffman said. “Working at the barns gave me that sense of home that I really needed when I got here.”
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