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Lakeland College preparing dairy students to lead industry

Lakeland College is calling it’s new Dairy Learning Centre a success. Working and learning in Lakeland’s new Dairy Learning Centre, these animal science technology students are learning what it takes to lead in the dairy industry.

Opened in 2017, the Dairy Learning Centre features state-of-the-art-technology in robotic and conventional milking and feeding systems that allow students to explore both styles of production. Geoff Brown is the associate dean of agricultural sciences at Lakeland College. He says that the need for a modernized dairy learning centre came from a need to increase the learning value for Lakeland students.

“We had a dairy program before, but many students who were coming were coming for a lot more modern operations than what we had on campus,” says Brown. “Building a new facility, and being able to put the latest and greatest technology in there – we have an automated feeding system and robotic milker, all sorts of new technology to work with – it creates really big value for a lot of the dairy students coming in and working with the equipment.”

The facility also features a Lely Vector automatic feeding system, three group-house calf rooms – two of which use automatic milk feeding systems – and dairy management software. DeLaval’s Herd Navigator is also used, which tests progesterone levels in milk and monitors lactate dehydrogenase. Brown says that technology like this gives students a closer look at the cattle and understand the herd better.

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“It’s really good for the students to look at this kind of technology, where they can pick out cows that are having problems, or who may be in heat, and then they can actually go out and look for those cows and figure out why they didn’t notice them in the pen. It’s a really good way to get an early indicator and also provide a lot of data on herd averages as well.”

With guidance from faculty and farm staff, the dairy SMF unit manages 120 lactating cows, which are part of a 290-head herd. Students are involved with managing heifers, herd health visits with the vet, milking, nutritional consultant visits, sustainability management, genetic selection, hoof trimming and more.

The unit is making great strides in achieving their goal to improve the production, health and longevity of the herd through genetic advancements by using the technologies available in the Dairy Learning Centre. Elevate, a new genomic testing system that provides DNA test results from tissue samples, allows the students to see the genetic ranking of each cow in the herd and determine lifetime profitability. The students also made a big purchase this year meant to improve the genetics of their herd.

“They bought a cow this year and implemented an embryo transfer program to put embryos in lower ranking cows that were milking. This allows for a lot quicker genetic progress in the herd. It was really cool to see the students initiate that. That was their big goal this year, to see how we can accelerate genetic improvements in the herd.”

Curriculum and industry knowledge isn’t the only thing these students are learning. With 11 students from across Canada on the dairy SMF unit this year, learning to effectively work and communicate as a team has been a key lesson for the unit. Brown believes this factor is another advantage to the student-led learning model the college takes, which promotes the building of soft skills to help the students throughout their careers.

“They’re learning how to influence their team, they’re learning how to critically think through problems on the farm. They’re learning how to work as a team and how to convince people. There are a lot of skills there.”

The college and community gave a lot of support at the start of the Dairy Learning Centre. Alberta Milk also provided support helping build the facility and providing an educational lease for quota. Since it was created two years ago, the number of enrolled students increased from 8-15 per year to 30 from across Canada.

“It’s been a really cool success story for Vermilion and Lakeland College in terms of training. It’s diversified our agriculture program, so we’ve got one more thing to offer as our portfolio.”

Thirty-eight litres is the average herd milk production per cow per day. Two-day production exceeded 9,000 litres in the fall of 2018. The college is the recipient of eight Milk Quality Awards from Alberta Milk and had its first classified excellent cow in 2018: EX 90 – Vermilion Lauthority Adriana.

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