Wisconsin Station Discontinues Dairy Sheep Program

Wisconsin Station to Discontinue Dairy Sheep Program in 2016

The College of Agricultural and Life Sciences at the University of Wisconsin-Madison plans to close its dairy sheep research program housed at the Spooner Agricultural Research Station later this year. Research on the flock will continue through this milking season, before the sheep are dispersed in the fall.

Ongoing reductions in state support have made it impossible for the college to continue to cover the broad range of agricultural sectors in Wisconsin, says Richard Straub, CALS senior associate dean. With pending retirements and reduced resources, the department of animal sciences will no longer be able to support faculty members specializing in all aspects of all species. The college will continue to support the research sheep flock – studied for wool and meat production – housed at the Arlington Agricultural Research Station.

“Although current resources do not allow us to serve the entire diversity of Wisconsin agriculture, we continue to strive to fulfill the Wisconsin idea by sharing research expertise throughout the state to the best of our ability,” says Straub. “It is our hope that by making this difficult decision to reduce programming, we will be able to maintain a physical presence in the northwestern portion of the state.”

The college is not closing the Spooner station. Research, including agronomic crop field trials on the station land, will continue with a smaller staff. The display garden and community meeting room at the station will continue to be available to local Master Gardeners, residents and the general public.

This program consolidation is expected to result in reduction of staff. The college will work with affected individuals to try to identify other appropriate employment opportunities elsewhere in the University of Wisconsin system or state service.

Established in 1909, the Spooner Agricultural Research Station includes 388 acres in Washburn County. The station’s main building provides office space for three UW extension agents serving the surrounding communities.

Spooner Station’s Storied History

An institution in the state of Wisconsin for more than 100 years, the Spooner Agricultural Research Station has played a vital role in the state’s ag-based economy. Here’s a closer look at the station’s history and achievements.

• Located in Washburn County (3/4 mile east of the intersection of 253-63 and 70 on Hwy. 70; 1/2 mile west of the 53 & 70 intersection on Hwy. 70) it includes 388 acres – 220 tillable acres, plus five rented acres of silt loam soil type for research purposes.

• Established in 1909, this was the first of the University of Wisconsin-Madison agricultural research stations. Sheep were added to the station’s research program in 1936. The station also provides office space for three UW extension agents serving the surrounding communities.

• In 2014, UW-Madison researchers conducted 26 research projects at the station – 17 focused on field crops, three focused on fruit crops and six focused on animal agriculture.

• Because of its location in USDA Plant Hardiness Zone 3a, the station provides an excellent setting for research on winter survival and short growing season for various crops.

• Research crops include alfalfa, corn, soybeans, forage grasses, kura clover, wheat, rye, barley and oats. Crop research is performed not only on the station’s sandy loam soils, but also on off-station silt loam soil. Research topics include: variety evaluation, planting date and plant population effects on yield and quality, forage seeding rates and mixture, fertilizer rates and products, soil pH effects and weed control methods. Wine grapes, hazelnuts, biofuel grasses and many alternative crops have been tested at Spooner.

• The Spooner Dairy Sheep Research and Outreach Program was started by Professor David Thomas (department of animal science) and Yves Berger (emeritus station superintendent) and is the only dairy sheep research program in North America. The program imported the first dairy sheep genetics in the U.S. from the European breeds of East Friesian and Lacaune, and they were subsequently distributed throughout the country.

• Dairy sheep producers throughout North America look to the station for research results, outreach and breeding stock. As an example, last year more than 200 sheep were sold to producers in New York, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Indiana, Iowa, Nebraska, Missouri, Washington, Arizona and Wisconsin.

• Recent dairy sheep research focused on the genetic improvement of dairy sheep and production of sheep milk for processing into cheese. Other research examined the impact of grain supplementation and protein utilization on milk production while summer grazing, the effect of ewe lamb feeding level on future milk production and effects on lactation performance of different milking intervals.

• Milk from the station’s sheep is currently being sold to Carr Valley Cheese. The Babcock Dairy also uses station milk for specialty cheesemaking classes.

• The station was among the founding members of both the Wisconsin Sheep Dairy Cooperative and the Dairy Sheep Association of North America. Wisconsin has hosted nine of the past 21 DSANA annual symposiums, with the 21st symposium held in November 2015 on the UW-Madison campus.

• In 2014, the Spooner station hosted two field days, four station tours and three seminars serving a combined total of 275 visitors. The station is also the home of a teaching and display garden, which includes an award-winning All-American Selections display garden. The North County Master Gardener Association meets monthly at the station and sponsors a “Meet Me in the Garden” series throughout the growing season. The display garden is a three-way partnership between the UW-Madison station staff, the UW Cooperative Extension staff and the local UW-Extension Master Gardener volunteers.

• The Annual Spooner Sheep Day is the longest-running agricultural field day program held by UW-Madison’s College of Agricultural and Life Sciences. The 64th Annual Spooner Sheep Day will be held at the Spooner station in August 2016.

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