Dowlen retires from Experiment Station

Wednesday, June 25, 2008
County Mayor Joe Boyd Liggett with Henry Dowlen, director of the Dairy Research and Education Center.

Last Wednesday afternoon there was a party for Henry Dowlen, who is leaving the Experiment Station, as locals call it, after nearly 37 years. He calls parties "not my thing," so family and colleagues had to surprise him with the gathering.

Past and present employees presented Dowlen with an inscribed watch, and he rose to the occasion with a short speech.

"We appreciate all of you coming," he said. "It's been a unique 36-plus years. Mr. Owen (James Owen, former director) gave us a good start. We've had a lot of good things happen over the years, and I hope we did a lot for the dairy industry. One of the best things was forming the Dairy Advocacy group. The little brown cows paid for most of what goes on here."

Dowlen said his secret for getting on with people is his pipe. When he's so angry with someone that he wants to shake them, he explains, he pulls out his pipe. It takes two hands to fill and light it, so he can't touch the other person, and he has time to think and get himself under control.

"He's a great person to work for," said secretary Sissy Nichols. "People have really recognized him for his knowledge and work."

Dowlen is on the front cover of April's Jersey Journal with some of his "girls" as he calls the pretty Jersey cows that have been bred and raised at the center since 1929.

Research assistant Hugh Moorehead is going to be the new on-site boss. "We're going to miss him," Moorehead said, "but we've got to move on and try to keep up the high standard he has set for us."

Betty Bigger, who was secretary from 1962 to 1997, said Dowlen was "just a new kid on the block, fresh from UT," when she first met him, but he's "come a long way."

The biggest change they have seen at the station is technology. In the beginning all the records on each of the more than 100 cows in production were kept with pen and paper. Nowadays, a scanner reads the cow's identity off her neck tag as she enters the milking parlor and data about her milk production is recorded automatically.

The Dairy Research and Education Center is home to the largest single-site Jersey research farm in the U.S. Established in 1929 as part of the University of Tennessee, the center has paved the way for Jersey breed improvement through its practical research applications.

The well-known herd gained national recognition with its mastitis research and now has the notoriety of being home to 15 registered clones all from the source cow, Tenn Soon HHH Maid.

Jerseys were the predominant breed in the area when the center was established; Holsteins were in the minority in those days. Jerseys are known for the high fat content of their milk, which makes it excellent for use in ice cream and cheese.

For almost 80 years the center has maintained records of their cows' pedigrees, diet, weight and milk output. They have measured the effectiveness of strategies for herd management and health maintenance; studied herd genetics; and established best management practices for land sustainability and improved water quality on dairy farms.

What is Dowlen going to do with his retirement? He has some Angus cattle of his own, so he plans on "fooling with them" and helping his neighbor, who also has some beef cattle.