Department of Animal & Dairy Sciences

Beginning in the summer of 2018, the members of the faculties of the departments of dairy science and animal sciences began discussing the possibility of closer collaborations, including a potential department merger. In January 2019, the faculty in the two departments voted to develop a proposal to merge. A committee took up the charge to envision a strong combined department and propose a consensus opinion to address key issues. The draft proposal was discussed at a joint departmental retreat on August 19, 2019 and the departments voted to name the merged unit the “Department of Animal & Dairy Sciences.”

The departments will vote separately on the proposal in fall 2019. If the vote is in favor of a merger, the proposal will next go to the CALS Academic Planning Council, followed by the University Academic Planning Council for consideration. If approved through all levels, the merger would take effect no earlier than fall 2020.

Below, Kent Weigel, current department chair of both animal sciences and dairy science, answers frequently asked questions regarding the proposed merger.

The departments are accepting comments related to the proposal through October 10, 2019.

+Why merge two academic departments that are viable on their own, in terms of number of faculty, student enrollment, and research productivity?

It’s true that many departmental mergers occur when one or both units are no longer viable on their own, but that’s not the case here.  Animal Sciences and Dairy Science are “mid-sized” departments within the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences (CALS).  Our rationale for the merger is two-fold.  First – Why?  There is significant overlap in our missions and activities.  Faculty in both departments carry out research that seeks to explain the key elements of animal biology – nutrition, physiology, and genetics, as well as ways to use this knowledge to improve animal agriculture.  Research in both departments ranges from applied to fundamental, and we already co-teach many of our core courses.  Second – Why now?  We are at a critical point in time, because large numbers of faculty and staff were hired in the 1980s, and more than half of them will retire within the span of a decade, so the time is ripe for such a change.

+How did you choose this name?

The chosen name, Department of Animal & Dairy Sciences, was selected by the joint departmental faculties after considerable discussion and debate.  Other options were considered (specifically, Department of Animal Biosciences), but in the end, our faculty felt that Animal & Dairy Sciences was a more suitable compromise.

+Who will lead the new department?

Kent Weigel, Chair of Dairy Science, is currently serving as Interim Chair of Animal Sciences.  Similarly, Hasan Khatib, Associate Chair of Animal Sciences, is currently serving as Associate Chair of Dairy Science.  This will transition into Kent Weigel and Hasan Khatib serving as Chair and Associate Chair of the merged Department of Animal & Dairy Sciences.  We expect this arrangement to continue for the foreseeable future, because changing leadership during or shortly after a merger of two large and complex departments would be ill-advised.  Nancy Hilmanowski, formerly the Department Administrator of Dairy Science, has served as the Department Administrator for both departments since they voted to combine administrative units in December 2018.  Nancy oversees finances, human resources, and other operations for both departments.

+Will this merger actually create any administrative or operational efficiencies?

Yes, it will.  Through our interdepartmental administrative hub, we have been able to hire staff members who can provide specialized expertise in financial management, human resources, student services, and related areas, and we are now much better equipped to cover vacations, illnesses, and other life events.  Going forward, collaboration across our animal units will likely also yield greater operational efficiencies.  For example, milking cows at Arlington does not fill an 8-hour shift, and an employee could check the cattle at our beef grazing unit before or after her milking shift.  And one can easily imagine, for example, how it will be more effective to have one lab manager focusing on nutrition and another focusing on physiology, as opposed to one focusing on all aspects of cattle and another focusing on all aspects of pigs.  The same factors that affect the operational efficiency of a business affect that of an academic department, and we believe we’ll be able to capture efficiencies and use resources more responsibly in the future than the past.

+What will be the impact on our undergraduate majors? Are changes planned in the B.S. degrees that will be offered?

Both majors, Animal Sciences and Dairy Science, will still be offered.  If the merged department makes changes to these majors in the future, current students in the Animal Sciences and Dairy Science majors will be able to complete the majors as structured when they enrolled.  At present, 163 students are enrolled in the Animal Sciences major (6th largest in CALS), and 73 students are enrolled in the Dairy Science major (10th largest in CALS).  Dairy Science has a very high admissions yield rate (number of students who enroll / number of students who apply for admissions), but the yield rate for Animal Sciences is relatively low, and we believe this can be improved by engaging prospective students earlier and promoting the wide range of animal-related careers.  Going forward, the faculty are discussing a potential new major that is tentatively called “Animal Biosciences”, for students who are interested in graduate school, veterinary school, or technical careers in animal health, genetics, or nutrition.  The other potential new major being discussed is tentatively called “Dairy & Food Animal Business Management”, tailored for business-oriented students who want to manage farms, work in sales or marketing, or pursue other career opportunities in agribusiness and animal agriculture.

+What about our graduate programs? How will the merger affect students who want to pursue M.S. and Ph.D. degrees?

No major changes are envisioned in our graduate programs, at least in the short term.  Right now we have 25 graduate students in Animal Sciences and 28 in Dairy Science, plus 5 or 6 additional students supervised by our faculty but enrolled in interdepartmental programs, such as the Endocrinology-Reproductive Physiology Graduate Program or the Interdisciplinary Graduate Program in Nutritional Sciences.  After the merger, we will study key features of our current programs, such as procedures for Ph.D. qualifying examinations and mechanisms to ensure students graduate in a timely manner, and adopt standardized best practices across both majors.

+Is the merger just a way to reduce UW–Madison’s investment in animal agriculture?

No, the investment will actually increase, with a new $53 million Meat Science and Animal Biologics Discovery (MSABD) building and at least $25 million invested in salary, fringe benefits, and startup packages for 15 or more new faculty members over a ten-year period.  As of today, with 26 faculty members and a $5.2 million research, teaching, and extension budget (not including pending funding for the new Dairy Innovation Hub), the Department of Animal & Dairy Sciences is the second-largest in CALS, just behind Biochemistry.  Note that last year, the investment of state tax revenues, federal extension dollars, and student tuition into our combined departments was leveraged with $14.9 million in extramural grants and gifts, a 3 to 1 ratio.

+What is the makeup of the new department? Who are the professors and instructors?

Animal Sciences currently has 13 faculty members plus an open search for an Assistant Professor of Animal Welfare, whereas Dairy Science currently has 11 faculty members plus an open search for an Assistant Professor and Extension Specialist in Ruminant Nutrition.  The faculty rosters (ranks in parentheses) are shown below:

Animal Sciences

  • Jim Claus (Full)
  • Tom Crenshaw (Full)
  • Wei Guo (Assistant)
  • Hasan Khatib (Full)
  • Brian Kirkpatrick (Full)
  • Vanessa Leone (Assistant)
  • John Parrish (Full)
  • Jess Reed (Full)
  • Mark Richards (Full)
  • Guilherme Rosa (Full)
  • Dan Schaefer (Full)
  • Dhanu Shanmuganayagam (Assistant)
  • Jeff Sindelar (Associate)
  • Animal Welfare (Assistant)

Dairy Science

  • Sebastian Arriola Apelo (Assistant)
  • Victor Cabrera (Full)
  • Dave Combs (Full)
  • Joao Dorea (Assistant)
  • Paul Fricke ( Full)
  • Laura Hernandez (Associate)
  • Jennifer Van Os (Assistant)
  • Michel Wattiaux (Full)
  • Kent Weigel (Full)
  • Heather White (Associate)
  • Milo Wiltbank (Full)
  • Ruminant Nutrition Extension (Assistant)

Several academic staff have independent research, teaching, or outreach positions.  These include Ron Kean (Teaching & Extension) and Bernie O’Rourke (Extension & Teaching) in Animal Sciences, as well as Matt Akins (Extension & Research), Ted Halbach (Teaching & Extension), Eric Ronk (Teaching & Research), and Yanna Williams (Teaching) in Dairy Science.

+What have we learned from other major land-grant universities? Will UW–Madison be able to avoid the merger-related pitfalls experienced by our peers?

The biggest pitfall encountered by other universities, most of which merged animal science, dairy science, poultry science, and/or meat science decades ago, is lack of focus.  While it is not our goal to ignore or alienate certain groups of students or stakeholders, we are very cognizant of the fact that what we choose not to do, going forward, is just as important as what we choose to do.  And we need to provide the resources necessary to achieve excellence in the areas we study.  If we spread our expertise beyond what we can support, our programs will suffer from mediocrity and fail to meet our stakeholders’ needs.

The other pitfall of many peer institutions has been straying too far from their core mission.  Some universities have moved away from animal agriculture, by attempting to recruit large numbers of undergraduate students with companion animal interests, or by devoting enormous effort toward competing for large biomedical research grants with universities like Harvard, Yale, and Stanford.  We will address such opportunities in an appropriate and measured way, but our core focus will remain on research, teaching, and outreach related to farm animal biology and animal agriculture, while training our undergraduate and graduate students rigorously and ensuring that our research spans from fundamental discoveries in the laboratory to practical applications on the farm.

+How will the merger impact UW–Madison’s ability to recruit and retain outstanding researchers and instructors?

We believe the merger will allow us recruit more talented faculty and staff.  Advertising across species generates larger candidate pools, because many good candidates are missed when a position is described too specifically, such as dairy cattle geneticist or swine nutritionist.   Graduate students and postdoctoral research associates work on whatever species are studied by their mentors, and we frequently interview candidates who worked with one species during their M.S. studies and another during their Ph.D. studies.

+Will the merger dilute UW–Madison’s excellence in research, teaching, and outreach related to dairy cow biology and dairy farm management?

We believe the merger will enhance our ability to support Wisconsin’s dairy industry.  Right now, we divide ourselves into species silos, and our impact is limited by lack of critical mass.  Our researchers are very productive on a per capita basis, but we have only a dozen or so dairy scientists at any given time.  We are one-deep in disciplines such as dairy genetics, and when a faculty member departs, as with Pam Ruegg’s promotion to department chair at Michigan State, we go from an internationally recognized milk quality program to no program, overnight.  In the merged department, faculty will be clustered into half a dozen disciplines or areas of expertise, regardless of species.  Individuals without a primary focus on dairy will be more readily available as collaborators on dairy-related projects, and we can learn useful lessons from other livestock species.  Lastly, the Dairy Innovation Hub (explained below) will ensure that dairy farming research is a high priority at UW–Madison for decades to come.  Teaching and outreach implications are discussed later, but we see synergies in those missions as well.

+How will the merger affect UW–Madison’s research, teaching, and outreach in other livestock and poultry species? Will they be overwhelmed by dairy cattle?

This is a trickier question.  The historic land-grant university model of having professors in all possible species and scientific disciplines, from a beef geneticist to a poultry nutritionist to a swine reproductive physiologist, is outdated and unsustainable.  It is not financially responsible to hire a faculty member for every discipline and every possible species, and even if we tried to do this, the searches would be too specific, and the pools of qualified candidates would be too small to find outstanding new faculty consistently.  We will focus on recruiting, mentoring, and retaining the best people, regardless of species interest and experience.  This strategy is somewhat easy to manage in the research laboratory, and even in the classroom, but it has challenging implications for our animal operations.  We can’t keep research farms with large herds or flocks of animals of every species “on hold”, ready to activate when a new faculty member is hired or an existing faculty member gets a research grant.  We will have large numbers of dairy cattle and swine for the foreseeable future, as well as the capability to house rodents for model species work.  For other species, including those that may garner interest in the future, we will need to find creative ways to keep adequate numbers of animals to support our teaching and outreach needs, while having the flexibility to expand the number of animals of a certain species rapidly when a new research opportunity emerges.  Lastly, it is important for our stakeholders to recognize that the research conducted by our faculty is directed by the availability of funding.  If a grantor offers funding to study a particular problem of interest to a researcher but in a different species, the faculty member will probably take it, and she will find collaborators who can cover her species-specific knowledge gaps.  Therefore, it’s not necessarily about hiring someone who can check a species box, but rather about providing the necessary resources for someone to tackle a problem or opportunity.

+What will be the impact of the Dairy Innovation Hub, and how will decisions be made regarding investment of these funds?

As you may have heard, our dairy industry partners worked hand-in-hand with Senator Marklein, Representative Tranel, and their colleagues, as well as Governor Evers and his staff, in securing $7.8 million per year in new funding for the Dairy Innovation Hub.  This initiative will support UW–Madison, UW-Platteville, and UW-River Falls, and it will be transformational in stimulating new research, attracting top talent, and educating the best and brightest young men and women.  CALS will receive 52% of this funding (about $4.2 million annually), and it will support new faculty, postdoctoral research associates, graduate students, research support staff, equipment, and facilities in Animal & Dairy Sciences, Biological Systems Engineering, Food Science, Agronomy, Agricultural & Applied Economics, and other departments, with four aims:

  1. Stewarding land and water resources
  2. Enriching human health and nutrition
  3. Ensuring animal health and welfare
  4. Growing farm businesses and communities

Once these funds are released by the Joint Finance Committee, we will begin soliciting proposals for people and projects to support work in these areas, and we will work with the River Falls and Platteville campuses, an advisory committee, and our stakeholders to ensure that funds are used in a manner the reflects the goals of the Dairy Innovation Hub.

+What will be the impact of the new Meat Science and Animal Biologics Discovery (MSABD) building?

The $53 million investment by CALS, UW-Madison, the State of Wisconsin, and our industry partners in our new Meat Science and Animal Biologics Discovery (MSABD) building will put us at the forefront of research, teaching, and outreach related to food safety, meat science, and biologically active coproducts of animal agriculture.  Two new faculty members will arrive in early 2020, and we are recruiting a new MSABD Director.  From the biosafety level 2 (BSL-2) research laboratory to the USDA-approved processing facility and the Bucky’s Varsity Meats storefront, this building will open countless opportunities for our faculty and students, and it will greatly strengthen our relationships with companies in the meat processing and animal biologics industries.

+How will decisions about future faculty positions be made? Will we see a shift in the scientific disciplines or species that are prioritized?

Research priorities, like teaching and outreach needs, tend to evolve over time.  That said, we asked a group of faculty and staff to “crystal ball” our faculty needs and priorities over the next decade, with a target of expanding to more than 30 total faculty members by 2025.  A roughly prioritized list, based on our current thinking (which is subject to change) follows:

  • Meat Science and Animal Biologics Discovery (MSABD) Director
  • Rumen Microbial Physiology
  • Immunology of Health, Growth, and Lactation
  • Food Animal Product Safety (Extension Specialist)
  • Ruminant Nutrition and Environmental Solutions for Animal Agriculture
  • Reproductive Physiology
  • Animal Welfare and the Public Perception of Animal Agriculture
  • Genomics, Proteomics, and Bioinformatics
  • Farm Business Management and Agricultural Entrepreneurship
  • Nutrient Management in Animal Agriculture (Extension Specialist)
  • Meat Microbiology
  • Lactation Physiology
  • Food Animal Management Systems (Extension Specialist)
  • Growth and Developmental Physiology
  • Monogastric Nutrition
  • Genomic Tools for Animal Health and Management
  • Sustainable Animal Production Systems
  • Mathematical Models in Animal Biology
+How will the department ensure that new hires are able to achieve tenure and develop internationally recognized programs?

Given that more than half of our faculty will turnover in a 10-year period, ensuring the success of new hires is our #1 priority.  As noted earlier, the department, CALS, and Vice Chancellor for Research and Graduate Education, as well as the Dairy Innovation Hub, will invest more than $25 million in salaries, fringe benefits, startup packages, and facilities and equipment for new faculty members over a decade.  We may soon find ourselves in the highly unusual situation of having more assistant professors than tenured faculty members.  Effective mentoring will be critical, and we will invest significant time and resources in implementing practices that have been successful elsewhere.  Your help in engaging these new faculty members, exposing them to the animal agriculture and meats industries in Wisconsin and beyond, and connecting them with opportunities for new research projects and industry funding opportunities will be greatly appreciated.

+How will this merger affect other educational programs, such as Farm & Industry Short Course (FISC) and the Midwest Poultry Consortium?

Neither of these programs will be affected directly by the merger.  FISC has been a part of CALS for more than 125 years, and its structure has evolved over time.  Enrollment in dairy-related courses has been relatively steady, but this is not the case for courses focused on other livestock species.  In the future, we will need to serve our traditional audience of recent high school graduates, while also providing continuing education opportunities for FISC alumni and other animal agriculture professionals.  It is likely that FISC will benefit from greater collaboration between UW–Madison, UW-Platteville, and UW-River Falls on the teaching activities of the Dairy Innovation Hub.

Prior to our merger discussions, leaders of the Midwest Poultry Consortium decided to move this summer undergraduate program from UW–Madison to Iowa State in 2020-2021 and 2021-2022, with the expectation that it will alternate between Iowa State and Minnesota in future years.  However, students in our undergraduate majors can still participate in this program.

+What is the future of our extension programs, and what does creation of the UW–Madison Division of Extension mean for our department?

Many changes have occurred in UW Extension over the past few years, as it has reorganized and transitioned into the Division of Extension at UW–Madison.  The impact on employees has been greater at the county level, though the department has faced cuts in our staff and supply budgets.  Going forward, the expectation is that tenure-track faculty specialists will be appropriate for areas in which the individual can build a strong extramurally funded research program, and academic staff educators residing in the Division of Extension will be appropriate for areas in which extension programming is the primary focus, rather than research.

+How will the merger affect donors and departmental resources at UW Foundation?

Both departments have strong relationships with alumni and stakeholders, and each has significant resources at UW Foundation and in UW Trust Funds, with total endowment values of $4.6 million for Animal Sciences and $5.6 million for Dairy Science.  These funds fall primarily into four categories: building funds for facility construction and maintenance, scholarship funds to support our undergraduate and graduate students, broad-based discretionary funds that the department chair can use for startup packages and new initiatives, and program funds for specific research groups or individual faculty.  Our approach to using these funds post-merger will be the same as it was pre-merger.  We will follow the donors’ wishes, as described in the Memoranda of Agreement that govern the funds, and we will work closely with UW Foundation staff in monitoring disbursements from the funds and reviewing the individuals with spending authority regularly.