STEPHENVILLE — In 2011 Tarleton State University’s Southwest Regional Dairy Center welcomed elected officials, Tarleton administrators, higher-ups in The Texas A&M University System and dairy industry dignitaries to its gala grand opening.
“This Dairy Center has been a dream for more than a decade,” said then-state Rep. Sid Miller. “Our goal was for this to be the showcase dairy, in not just the southwestern U.S. but for the entire nation.”
Those dreams have been realized.
On Sunday, Oct. 31, the facility marks 10 years in support of teaching, research and outreach programs to address the needs of higher education and the dairy industry in Texas and the Southwest.
SWRDC is the Texas A&M University system-wide dairy utilizing the distinctive external alliance of a private partner — 360 Ag Management, which owns and manages the facility’s 400 head of Holstein, Jersey and crossbred cows — and researchers from Tarleton, Texas A&M and Texas A&M AgriLife.
Dr. Barry Lambert was in charge of the center when it was created. He now is Interim Dean of Tarleton’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources.
“The Southwest Regional Dairy Center was formed at the request and with strong support from the Texas dairy industry,” he recalled. “It continues to serve as the premier dairy teaching and research facility in the Southwest United States.”
Dr. Barbara Jones has been its director the last four years.
“A university dairy is so important to bring attention to the surrounding community and state on the importance of the industry,” she said. “It is especially important in such a large and significant dairy state as Texas.”
Research has always been a linchpin of the center. Among other topics, university scientists have worked on lameness detection using acoustics and drone-based vision, and on virtual reality use in extension and classroom teaching and nutrition management.
A team led by Tarleton researcher Dr. Eun Sung Kan was awarded a National Conservation Innovation Grants national program award from the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service in 2020.
The team’s three-year grant, totaling more than $1.4 million including matching funds and federal support, was awarded for the proposal “Biocarbon-Enhanced Dairy Manure Management Demonstration for Enhanced Water Quality.”
Another cadre of Dairy Center researchers received almost $300,000 from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture to help initiate high-tech communications solutions to share research-based information gathered at Tarleton with producers and extension educators.
Scientists at the Tarleton facility also are tracking dairy cows’ eating, sleeping and other movements via Fitbit-type devices. The data is expected to lead to better care of the herd.
Besides research projects, the Dairy Center hosts courses in dairy production, lactation physiology, dairy farm evaluation and environmental stewardship.
The Dairy Center is open to the public. Since 2017 almost 4,000 visitors have toured the facility.
For more information visit https://www.tarleton.edu/dairycenter/index.html.