Penn State’s history of dairy research plays critical role

Editor’s Note: This story originally appeared in AlumnInsider, the Penn State Alumni Association's monthly member e-newsletter.

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — More than 150 years ago, Penn State’s first dairy barn housed cows and swine, and even a creamery. Since then, the Department of Dairy and Animal Science has undergone plenty of changes while continuing to play a vital role at the University. 

There are still modern-day reminders of the department’s beginning. A watering trough that was originally located in the open-court area of the old dairy barn from 1913 to 1952 now sits on the University Park campus, near the intersection of Curtin and Shortlidge roads.

In between, a lot has happened to shape the department as it has evolved, and recently, on July 1, 2012, the Department of Dairy and Animal Science and the Department of Poultry Science merged to form the Department of Animal Science. While plenty has changed, former chairman and department head Donald Ace said the impact the department and its students have made continues to be far-reaching.  

“Penn State says we have more alumni spread over the world—more than any other institution—the same can be said about graduates from the Department of Dairy and Animal Science,” Ace said. “In most phases of agriculture, you will find our graduates prevailing.”

Ace, a former faculty member who was named chairman of the extension section in 1974, was elevated to department head in 1980 and retired four years later. In other words, he’s seen a lot as generations of Penn Staters have worked their way through the department and earned degrees, using opportunities made available through animal and dairy research.

Penn State was a pioneer in this area, with faculty members at University Park becoming leaders in the development, design and implementation of a variety of research methods, including artificial breeding, raising calves and young stock, forage testing programs, sire analysis, food flavoring and more.

These programs benefit farmers not only in Pennsylvania, but also across the country, Ace said, adding, “Our students have been an integral part of the success.”

As campus extended over the years, land was re-allocated, with agricultural resources re-located and multiple departments coming together. Various farms housed livestock in the early 1900s, with the Stock Judging Pavilion (now the Pavilion Theatre) being built in 1915. The dairy department and creamery were moved to Borland Lab when that building was finished in 1932. And most recently, the department has been located on the third floor in both the Henning Building and the inter-connected Agricultural Science and Industries Building.

dairy department photo

More than 150 years ago, Penn State’s first dairy barn housed cows and swine, and even a creamery. Since then, the Department of Dairy and Animal Science has undergone plenty of changes while continuing to play a vital role at the University. 

Image: Penn State

With the Department of Dairy and Animal Science and the Department of Poultry Science merging two years ago, it’s benefited the University and the college, as the departments have dealt with downsizing and a reduction in management. But Ace said neither program has regressed with all the moving parts taking place.

“This merger has not adversely affected either of the programs,” he said. “Their outreach, teaching and research goes on much the same as in the past. Students from each department are interning within each department, and working in the creamery and in the dairy, beef, sheep, horse and swine barns are eagerly sought positions by the students.”

Additionally, the department continues its partnership with the Berkey Creamery, supplying milk for sale, as well as for use in the making of ice cream and cheeses. 

Ace said Penn State’s rural setting and open spaces allow the department to house and care for a variety of animals, including those mentioned earlier, as well as white-tailed deer. The animals were used for research, he said, with students taking advantage of these opportunities to learn skills that are transferrable to the work force.

Students graduating from the department don’t need what Ace called a “break-in period” when starting a new job because of the education they received at Penn State, and Ace has heard from employers who speak to the desirability of hiring Penn State agricultural students.

Is it possible to have agricultural campus in an urban setting? It’s not impossible, but as Ace said, he can’t imagine that happening. That’s what makes Penn State’s rural, pastoral setting such an ideal area.  

“We are most fortunate to be where we are,” he said.

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Last Updated February 09, 2015