Celebrating Dairy Month

A Grad Student Perspective with a Corn Industry Twist

Guest Blog by Billy Brown, 2018 Next Generation Scholarship Winner

Lindzy and Parker are two dairy cows owned by Billy.

June is dairy month – have you consumed your <insert favorite dairy product here> yet?  Not only do dairy products help build a strong, healthy body through the essential nutrients they provide, the consumption of dairy products helps to support our neighbors in the corn industry.  Why, you ask?  Because here in the U.S., one of the major feed products for dairy cows is – you guessed it – corn!  In fact, the USDA reports that more than 90% of dairy farms feed corn in the form of silage or grain. This is where I come in as a graduate student in dairy cattle nutrition.  I help bridge the gap between the dairy farm and feed (ie., corn) industries.

As a little background, I am a PhD student focusing on dairy cattle nutrition and metabolism at Kansas State University.  In a nutshell, I conduct research on how to feed cows so they produce more milk and hopefully make dairying a profitable enterprise for the dairy farmer.

As an example of my research, this winter I will begin a project where we will feed corn silage with a novel genetic trait to dairy cows over an entire lactation cycle to see if milk production changes.  This novel corn trait was originally developed for the ethanol industry to produce alpha-amylase in the corn kernel, so it breaks down starch better for refiners.  After a while, the industry began wondering if this would be beneficial for feeding to cattle since the same process has to occur in an animal – the starch must be broken down to be used by the animal to make milk.  For this project, we will feed the cows a specific diet including the new corn silage, and take measurements on milk production, digestibility and efficiency of the cows.  If the corn silage works well, we will have proven a way to ensure that more of the corn we feed is utilized, which makes the dairy industry more sustainable.  If it doesn’t work, then we will know to recommend other more traditional varieties of corn silage.

Billy and his girlfriend, Jordan, showing their love for the dairy industry at the World Dairy Expo.

My goals after completing my PhD are to work in technical support in the dairy feed industry or to be a professor.  Without a doubt, my work bridging the corn and dairy industries will continue throughout my career.  As a technical support specialist, I would work to understand feed products (including corn products) to help dairy farmers find the best option for making milk most efficiently on their farm.  As a professor, I would continue to conduct similar research and pass along my expertise to students.

While I know there is a lifetime ahead of me to support the corn and dairy industries, for now I am going to celebrate June as ‘dairy month’ by enjoying some ice cream.  Which of your favorite dairy products are you going to enjoy more of this month?  Remember – by consuming your dairy products, you are also supporting a corn farmer!