Educating through agriculture at Alfred State College

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by Pauline E. Burnes, PLA

One of Allegany County’s greatest assets is the Center for Organic and Sustainable Agriculture at Alfred State College (ASC). Founded in 1908, the agricultural program at ASC has grown to include an organic dairy herd. ASC’s farm is located on State Route 244 in the Town of Alfred, overlooking the surrounding hillsides and the Village of Alfred. The livestock barns step up the hillside on constructed terraces surrounded by verdant pastures.

The college’s farm and organic dairy herd received the coveted Dairy of Distinction Award in 2021. The award is provided by the Northeast Dairy Farm Beautification Program, recognizing the arduous work and dedication of dairy owner/operators who have attractive, well-kept farms promoting a positive image for the dairy industry. The health and condition of the dairy herd is also considered when selecting the Dairy of Distinction.

Jessica Chamberlain, farm manager, and Alan Davis, herdsman, with some of the organic dairy herd at Alfred State College. Photo by Pauline Burnes

The credit for receiving the Dairy of Distinction award goes to ASC’s Virginia Chamberlain, farm manager; Herdsman Alan Davis; and the staff and students that make the farm and organic dairy herd a successful operation. Careful consideration has gone into the development of the organic dairy herd, which consists of a milking herd of 55 cows. Various dairy breeds are represented in the herd, which consists of Holsteins, Brown Swiss, Jerseys, Guernsey, Shorthorns, Dutch Belt and crossbred cattle.

The dairy cows are allowed to graze on 102 acres of divided pasture from May through the end of October or early November (depending on the weather conditions). The college farm also has 196 tillable acres used for crops with an emphasis on organic agriculture. There is a large dairy barn, which is airy and efficient. There is a low incidence of mastitis due to the cleanliness of the facility and the ability of the cows to get out on lush pasture.

ASC raises their own replacements for the organic dairy herd and has separate housing for the heifers and dry cows. There are 70 replacements being raised and 55 milking cows. Because this is an organic dairy cow herd, they do not use a conventional treatment to prepare dry cows with antibiotic dry treatment and sealant. The drying off process starts with limiting their feed (lactating cows require more feed) and an occasional milking if needed. If the cows are on pasture, they are brought into the dairy barn three weeks before they are due to calve and have a large box stall in which to have their young. After they are weaned, calves are housed in their own box stalls at a separate barn.

The highlight of the tour of the Center for Organic and Sustainable Agriculture at ASC was observing the modern DeLaval V300 robotic milking machine. The robot does all the preparation of the udder and milking and can even detect mastitis. The affected milk is diverted from the marketable milk to a drum. Ninety-five percent of the herd willingly walk into the milking station to get their personalized grain ration and calmly stand for a robotic arm to prep the udder, attach the machine and perform the milking operation. The robot scans information from the RFID tag in the cow’s ear and records data for each cow for the operator to analyze from a computer screen. It takes 6.5 minutes to milk one cow, and the robot milks cows as they come through 24/7, without a need for dinner breaks or sleep. There barn also currently utilizes an automatic feed pusher which will be replaced by the Vector system in the spring (look for more information in future editions of Country Folks).

The milk produced by the ASC organic dairy herd is marketed to Organic Valley in Batavia, NY.

In addition to the organic dairy herd, other farm animals support the agricultural and veterinary technician programs at the college. The sprawling agricultural campus includes facilities for goats, sheep, pigs, horses, rabbits, chickens and beef cattle. The beef herd includes registered Red Angus, Black Angus and Herefords. Students learn about the birthing processes of the various farm animals. The beef cattle calve during the spring and fall semesters. The sheep and goats give birth in January, during the college season.

One out of every six jobs in the American economy is related to agriculture and food businesses. Even without a farming background, deciding to attend ASC can prepare students for a future career in agriculture. Two-year degree programs are available in ag technology, ag business and agricultural automation and robotics. A four-year degree in agricultural entrepreneurship is also available. In addition to having an opportunity to acquire technical and business skills, students learn how to safely work around large and small farm animals that they may encounter on farms during their career. The college currently has 50 students enrolled in the various ag degree programs. There are 100 students enrolled in the vet tech program, which has ranked the third highest college program in the nation for the past five years in a row. This excellent program also has access to the farm animals at the Center for Organic and Sustainable Agriculture.

For more information regarding the organic dairy herd and other agricultural programs at ASC, visit catalog.alfredstate.edu/current/department/agriculture-veterinary-technology.

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