County delegation takes cows' case to Gov. Bredesen

Wednesday, March 18, 2009
Tribune photo by Clint Confehr Heifers are naturally curious and there may be more of them at the New Lake Road farm if UT's proposal succeeds. It's being opposed by a seven-man delegation today at the governor's office.

A delegation of advocates for keeping the state dairy farm here is scheduled to meet with Gov. Phil Bredesen and the state agriculture commissioner at the Capitol this afternoon.

It's to oppose plans by University of Tennessee administrators to move the Jersey milk herd from the farm on New Lake Road to the Maury County side of Spring Hill where Holsteins are milked and crops are grown.

Heifers would become the focus of research at the UT Dairy Research and Education Center on New Lake Road.

It's to be a cost savings measure, according to Dr. Joe DiPietro, UT vice president of agriculture, and Dr. Bill Brown, dean of UT AgResearch, who acknowledged at the Marshall County Commission's Feb. 23 meeting that the recommendation will require final approval by the state legislature.

Beyond heritage and other historic reasons to keep the Jersey herd here, the agricultural experiment station is credited with research that's led to longer shelf life for milk sold to consumers, increased production and better health for milk cows, according to former superintendents at the farm.

State Sen. Bill Ketron obtained today's appointment with Gov. Bredesen and Agriculture Commissioner Ken Givins, the Murfreesboro Republican said last week listing others who are to attend as: Marshall County Mayor Joe Boyd Liggett; Commissioner Tony White, a dairyman who's on the county's Agriculture Committee; Marshall County Farm Bureau President Jimmy Ogilvie; Mike Vaught, a representative of the Tennessee Jersey Cattle Club; Charles Steer, a member of the American Jersey Assocation's Board of Directors; and Henry Dowlen, a former superintendent of the research center.

"Development [at the farm here] of a protocol to use on un-calved heifers to reduce the amount of udder infection," Dowlen said, "has led to 1,200 more pounds of milk in the first lactation compared to a control cow that was not treated" during the experiment.

"It also means longer shelf life for the milk," Dowlen said.

Dowlen's predecessor, John Owen who lives at Village Manor on Tiger Boulevard, said Friday that he'd been advised the farm's foreman has been directed to plant corn for silage as always.

Owen took that to mean that the Jersey herd wouldn't be moved this year, but Dr. Dennis Onks, the director here and in Spring Hill, on Monday said that may be "wishful thinking" since heifers must also be fed.

"Our normal cropping will continue this year," Onks said, noting the resulting silage could feed livestock owned by the University of Tennessee.

Owen also said "Jerseys and Holsteins don't mix" because Holsteins are bigger and feeding stalls are built to size for the different cows.

Onks agreed, but said, "We have plans to build an additional feeding floor and free stalls" where cows rest after eating. Such construction would prevent savings the first year, Onks said, but from that point on, costs would be lower compared to having two milking operations.

Ketron quoted Bredesen as saying federal stimulus money would help higher education restrict tuition increases. "It's not a silver bullet," the senator continued, "because the stimulus money will run out, but it buys us time starting July 1."

Onks commented his understanding of stimulus money's purpose is to help create jobs.

While he refrained from saying so during a visit to the farm on Monday, there have been fears that Onks' double duty as director here and in Spring Hill will be the first of other job cuts by UT here in South Central Tennessee.

Owen came to Marshall County in 1958 after working at Mississippi State University where five breeds of milk cows were kept in the same herd, he said, explaining, "It wasn't a good idea at all."

Small cows get edged out by big cows for food, Owen said. "Big ones run over little ones and the fittest will survive," he said.

The issue for Ketron is two pronged because Middle Tennessee State University, the college in his hometown, also has a farm. It's in the Blackman Community near where the Bible Park was proposed.

"We make our own milk and sell it on campus," Ketron said.

"There seems to be a disconnect in the education community between teaching things and more scholastic programs," the senator said. "What I would warn about is cutting off the hand that feeds us, literally."

Marshall County's mayor noted that county commissioners have suggested that the UT experiment station in Spring Hill be sold and closed since the property is more valuable there.

Liggett agreed, saying land could be bought here for less and it could even leave money available for the state.

Asked about that and the farm in Maury County being so close to the GM factory, Ketron replied, "I represent both counties, but I still stand behind what my folks in Marshall County are telling me about the sensitivity of that herd."

Moving herds can disrupt them and might even kill some.

There is truth in the commercial sales line about milk from "contented cows," Liggett said.

Ketron said, "While ... they do row crops, swine, Holsteins [in Spring Hill,] I want to hear from the experts on how it might blend rather than just make cuts."

Replacing the dairy herd with a heifer research program would, according to Dowlen, "be a significant blow to Marshall County. For every dollar spent by that dairy, it creates $2 in what we call the multiplier effect" for a local economy.

This county is among the top five dairy counties in Tennessee, he said. It has about 30 dairies and they are "big users of electricity, water, fertilizer and feed."

Adding heifer research here is just as possible as doing it in Spring Hill, Dowlen said.

Of moving the herd, he said, "The implication is that you can't do that with cows there.

"As far as a plan," he said, "I think this was developed just recently, after budget cuts were sought... I don't think it was on the back burner for years...

"I think it was a knee jerk reaction," Dowlen said.

That and other points are to be made from 1:30-2 p.m. today.