The approximate 650 Tarleton animal science majors will soon have a new place to test their skills. Tarleton State University is set to begin construction on a new dairy facility, the Southwest Regional Dairy Center, which should be operational next spring.

A groundbreaking ceremony took place Friday at the site of the facility, just off of US Highway 281 and College Farm Road.

“We have been interested in building a new dairy for more than 20 years. The one we have now was built in the 1940s and hasn’t had an update since the 1970s. We want our students to see how dairies operate today and the continued support of our administration here at Tarleton has made that possible for us,” said Dr. Barry Lambert, head of the department of animal sciences.

The funding for the dairy was also made possible by the help of State Representative Sid Miller (R-Stephenville) who helped Tarleton push the funding initiative through the legislators. Lambert said the dairy would not have been possible without his support.

The new dairy facility will house about 300 cows at its capacity, although the number of cattle will grow gradually as the center gains the funding and man power. A large classroom/conference room will also allow students, researchers and observers to have a place to meet and discuss relevant issues. Offices, laboratories and a locker room will also be provided. The facility will contain a housing barn for the cattle, a milking parlor and a high-tech system of pens that will help sort the cattle. The building will be conducive to visitors who want to see what is going on.

“The back wall, across from the entry way will be glass, allowing visitors to see the cows being milked in the parlor. We really want visitors at this center, people who want to see where their milk comes from or groups of students interested in animals,” Lambert said.

The dairy is being built for reasons that extend beyond the typical reasons for collegiate construction.

“This dairy is being built for educational purposes. Students are the number one priority, but it is also being built to help with research on issues relating to the dairy industry such as environmental concerns, bioenergy (extractions from cow manure that could prove to be a fuel source), production research and cow comfort,” Lambert explained.

The Southwest Regional Dairy Center, aptly named, as it is the only collegiate dairy in a tri-state area of Texas, Louisiana or Arizona, will try to closely mimic local dairies by having the same ratio of dairy breeds. The dairy will house mainly Holstein cattle, but will also include both jersey and crossbred cattle. The cattle will be housed in 12 bed pens, allowing each cow to have a place to lay down. The floors of the beds will be covered in sand to prevent the growth of bacteria. The cattle will wear a monitor that will track both their feeding habits and how much milk they are producing. The cows will be fed a highly controlled diet of grains, fresh forages and hay of which they will normally eat about 40-50 pounds a day.

The $11.1 million project will feature the latest advances in dairy technology, with the hope of providing students with the tools they will need to be successful dairymen.

“Dairy producers work very hard to take care of the land that supports them. I think this will be a great opportunity for our students to see how the dairy industry operates,” Lambert said.