Purchase photos

University set to sell off dairy herd

7/22/2014

By MIKE CORN

By MIKE CORN

mcorn@dailynews.net

It's the end of era, but the approaching loss of the Fort Hays State University dairy is bittersweet.

The remaining dairy herd, located just west of the university's campus, will be sold at noon Friday at La Crosse Livestock.

Currently milking approximately 35 cows, the FHSU dairy farm first was started in 1914, "when Ayrshire cows belonging to a nearby farmer were used to teach practical aspects of dairy and creamery practice," according to the university's website.

The dairy grew and eventually started bottling its milk to supply students at the university.

Since August, the university slowly has been working toward ceasing operations at the out-of-date facility that's been deemed unsightly by administrators.

That's when the dairy lost its top two employees.

The dairy's primary milking cows were sold off not long after the employees left, and students were hired to carry on the task of milking remaining cows.

Now, those students are leaving as well.

William Poland, who took over dairy operations last year, is leaving in August to attend veterinary medicine school at Kansas State University and MerleAnn Raichart is returning to Nebraska, where she'll be working with her new husband on the family ranch.

That leaves senior Jessica Bruington, Independence, who is majoring in animal science.

Already, there's work being done to install stalls that will let students practice artificial insemination of beef cows, the face of what the space now used by the dairy will become.

Agriculture Department Chairman John Greathouse said the university ultimately plans to use that area for backgrounding beef cattle, a stronger focus of the university department. The loafing shed behind the main dairy barn is all that will remain.

There's been little demand by students for a dairy program, he said, but that's primarily because the big dairies now operating in Kansas generally look for employees schooled in the larger universities where dairy operations are more widespread.

Currently, Poland said, milk from the university dairy is picked up every other day and hauled to Wichita.

"Our milk is going to Wichita to be made into cheese," he said.

The loss of the dairy herd will be felt on campus, however, as dairy cows were used by the Block and Bridle Club. Cows also were used at the Ellis County Fair for the annual milking contest. For years, the FHSU dairy cows had been a staple of the Kansas State Fair, housed in the milking parlor there.

"I started as a student employee," Poland said, "while I was in high school. When the previous manager left, I took her position."

Poland said the university has "excellent cows," which are milking approximately 60 pounds per head a day. "Which is pretty close to the national average."

"We've been able to hold our own," Greathouse said of the dairy unit's financial stability, but the "facility is just antiquated."

Currently, the dairy parlor can milk eight cows -- four to a side.

The milking equipment will be sold after the cows are gone, but due to its age, it likely will be sold as parts.