Participate in the Dairy Science Golf Outing Auction Remotely

The 2019 Dr. Dave Dickson Memorial Golf Classis is Wednesday, May 15, at University Ridge Golf Course. If you are not able to attend the event but would like to participate in the live auction, you can! The auction will be live on 32Auctions from 8:00 am to 4:00 pm. Log in or create an account to bid on items during the outing. The winners will be announced after golfing, during the Brat Cookout. Contact Krista DeJoode ( from the department if you won an item to set up payment.

From the Department Chair

Kent Weigel, Department Chair and Professor in Breeding and Genetics

Spring is here, more or less, so that means it’s time for the Dave Dickson Memorial Golf Outing.  This year’s event is on May 15 at University Ridge Golf Course in Verona. There are just a handful of spots left for golfers, so if you want to get out there and hack up some turf please register as soon as possible. Or if you want to participate as a sponsor and help our Dairy Science students through scholarships, intercollegiate teams, and high-impact learning activities such as laboratories and field experiences, that would be fantastic. The proceeds from this event directly impact our undergraduates and their educational experience. Please contact Emma Olstad ( or Ted Halbach ( / 608-263-3305) for more details about these opportunities. We hope to see you there!

Just a few other items of note . . . We are very happy that Dr. Joao Dorea will be joining our faculty later this month as an Assistant Professor of Precision Management and Data Analytics. Joao has an animal nutrition background, and he is a wizard at “big data” and tools such as image analysis, sensor-based systems, artificial intelligence, and machine learning. He will be a very valuable resource for our students and stakeholders in this emerging subject area for many years to come. In addition, we are just about to begin advertising for an Assistant Professor and Integrated Extension Specialist in Ruminant Nutrition, which is the position formerly held by Dr. Randy Shaver, and we are very grateful to CALS and Cooperative Extension for approving this hire so quickly. Lastly, we are in the midst of pursuing a targeted hire for an Assistant Professor of Animal Health and Immunology, and if we are successful in recruiting this individual she will most likely have an extension appointment as well.

This was a very exciting week in Madison due to the introduction of Senate Bill 186 for the Dairy Innovation Hub, which was sponsored by Sen. Howard Marklein and Rep. Travis Tranel. If approved, this bill will provide $7.9 million per year in new funding for research, teaching, and outreach in four areas that are vital to the future of Wisconsin’s dairy industry: 1) stewarding our land, air, and water resources; 2) enriching human health and nutrition; 3) enhancing animal health and welfare, and 4) supporting our rural communities.  The plan is to divide this funding between UW-Madison, UW-River Falls, and UW-Platteville, with a focus on hiring talented faculty, post-docs, graduate students, and support staff to carry out timely and innovative research on problems and opportunities affecting our dairy industry and train the next generation of leaders. Please voice support for this bill whenever you get a chance!  For more information about the Dairy Innovation Hub and how to contact your elected officials you can visit .

We have received some great news in the area of competitive external grants recently, and I can share a few examples. Dr. Jennifer Van Os was just approved for a $300,000 USDA Agriculture and Food Research Initiative grant to study heat stress, animal welfare, and heat abatement strategies – this was her first attempt at a federal grant, so she is “1 for 1” at this early point in her career. Dr. Victor Cabrera and several Dairy Science and Computer Sciences colleagues were just approved for a $1,000,000 USDA Food and Agriculture Cyberinformatics and Tools Initiative grant to aggregate data from commercial dairy farms and develop advanced analytics and tools that will aid producers’ management decisions – this grant leverages the internal UW-Madison investment in the “Dairy Brain” project.  And lastly, Dr. Heather White and I are key players in a new $2,000,000 Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research grant (about 25% of which comes to UW-Madison) that aims to develop genomic selection tools for increasing feed efficiency in dairy cattle, while also identifying biomarkers and sensor systems that will permit large-scale phenotyping of dairy cows for daily dry matter intake – this grant includes a 50:50 match from the Council on Dairy Cattle Breeding.

And finally, the discussions and planning regarding a merger with the Department of Animal Sciences continue. We are refining plans for future faculty and staff positions, the structure of our undergraduate majors, and other key issues such as experimental farms, governance policies, and outreach programs. Stay tuned for updates, and please don’t hesitate to contact me ( or other departmental faculty and staff if you want real-time updates on this process.

Thanks, and On Wisconsin!


Joao Dorea Joins UW-Madison Dairy Science Department As Precision Agriculture Expert

The same technology that alerts a self-driving car that there’s a pedestrian in the crosswalk could also warn a dairy farmer that a calf is getting sick—even if that calf is mingled among dozens of healthy ones.

Research by Joao Dorea, a new assistant professor in the University of Wisconsin-Madison dairy science department, is laying the groundwork for this and other technologies that gather and analyze data and pinpoint patterns that can help farmers make better decisions.

“We have a camera, fully automated that recognizes what activity the calf is performing—standing, eating, drinking milk, drinking water, lying down,” Dorea says.  “By the end of the day we should be able to say ‘Look I have a calf here that’s lying around 30 percent more than normal.’

“Animals change behavior when they’re sick,” he says. “There’s an increase in lying-down time, a reduced number of steps. We need to be able to pick up these little differences. It’s hard to spot in a large operation. By the time the farmer notices, it might be too late.”

In his new position, Dorea’s research and teaching will focus on dairy-related applications of precision agriculture and data analysis. The job officially begins in July, but Dorea has been working on campus for three years and is well along on several lines of research. In addition to monitoring calf behavior, he and his research partners are using cameras to track calves’ growth, with the goal of seeing how calf growth patterns correlate with the animal’s future milk yield and composition and ability to successfully reproduce.

He’s also part of another research team that’s working on a way to analyze the spectrum of light reflected by the cow’s milk to estimate how much feed she has consumed. Having such data on individual animals could help farmers identify which cows are most efficient at converting feed to milk.

Dorea brings much-needed expertise, says Victor Cabrera, a UW-Madison professor who develops data-driven decision-making tools for dairy farm managers.

“With all the new technologies available there’s a huge push for data scientists, and dairy science is no exception,” says Cabrera, who chaired the hiring committee for Dorea’s position. “Applying these technologies requires two kinds of expertise. You need to understand the sensory technology that collects data, such as imaging, analyzing milk or monitoring the cow’s activity. But this data doesn’t have value until you analyze it. We also wanted someone with expertise in that.

“Joao stood out because he has a strong base in biology and physiology and animal science in general, and he can connect that to the technologies and develop technologies and do the analytics.”

Dorea’s background is in dairying and animal science. His family operated a 250-cow grazing operation in Brazil, which inspired him to earn a B.S. in agronomy and graduate degrees in ruminant nutrition. He then spent two years managing dairy and beef research in Latin America for DSM, a global supplier of animal health and nutrition products.

He developed his expertise in data analytics and sensory technologies when he came to the UW-Madison in 2016. He first worked with dairy nutritionists Lou Armentano and Dave Combs and later joined the lab of animal scientist Guilherme Rosa, who specializes in agricultural applications of data analytics and artificial intelligence.

His deep dive into in the science of collecting and wrangling data hasn’t dampened in interest in animal science in the least, he says.

“I’m interested in the same biological questions that I had before,” he says. “Now, with the amount of data that is being generated, I’m able to apply more analytics and quantitative analysis to better answer these questions.”  


From the Chair’s Desk . . .

Kent Weigel, Department Chair and Professor in Breeding and Genetics

As you might have heard through the grapevine, Dairy Science is in preliminary discussions with the Department of Animal Sciences regarding a potential merger.  The initial impetus for this discussion was a request by Dean VandenBosch, on recommendation of the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences Redesign Committee, to consider the pros and cons of an Animal Sciences / Dairy Science merger.  This decision will ultimately be made by the faculty members in the two departments.

Why consider a merger?  There are several potential benefits to the departments, and I will mention two specifically.  First, we already share a building and administrative (financial, human resources, and IT staff), and we cross-list and co-teach our core courses in nutrition, physiology, and genetics, so the two departments are highly interdependent.  Going forward, we may be able to meet the needs of our students and stakeholders more effectively by joint planning and intentional collaboration, rather than working side-by-side and hoping for the best.  Second, and most important in my mind, is the issue of “critical mass” in key disciplines or subject areas.  A perfect example is the area of milk quality, where Dairy Science literally went from an internationally recognized program to no program at all overnight, when Dr. Pamela Ruegg left to become department chair at Michigan State.  This “one-deep” expertise strategy is not sustainable, and we need strong groups of professors in each of the traditional disciplines such as genetics, nutrition, meats, and physiology, as well as emerging areas such as data science and animal welfare.

Why now?  The majority of faculty members in Animal Sciences and Dairy Science were hired in the 1980s, so we are beginning a period of enormous turnover.  As we make decisions about how to position our departments for success over the next thirty years, now is the time to determine whether to do this individually or jointly.

How will our students be impacted if a merger occurs?  Not that much, honestly, at least in the short-term.  Any changes in our undergraduate majors are a few years away, because by rule we cannot change the curriculum requirements for students once they’ve enrolled at UW-Madison.  In the long-term, we will still have a major that serves the needs of science-oriented students with interest in becoming a veterinarian, nutritionist, or reproduction consultant.  Similarly, we will have a major that serves the needs of business-oriented students with interest in careers in dairy management and dairy-related agribusiness roles such as sales, marketing, and finance.  Exact names and course requirements are yet to be determined, but if we do this properly we can meet the needs of our students much more effectively in the future than we do today.

What about our stakeholders?  This is obviously a huge concern, especially for Wisconsin’s $43 billion dairy industry.  Again, if we do this properly, we should be better positioned to meet the needs of our key stakeholders in the future than we are today.  A huge risk, if we decide not to merge, is spreading ourselves too thin by trying to cover all disciplines and all species – neither UW-Madison nor any other land-grant university can do this successfully.  We need to specialize and focus on the things that are most important to Wisconsin, and this strategic planning will take place throughout most of 2019.

What’s the process?  Now that both departments have “decided to try,” by voting to work toward development of a formal merger proposal, the hard work begins.  Five interdepartmental groups have been formed to cover the key issues and decisions.   These working groups will meet biweekly over the next six to eight months to discuss options and strategies, and during the summer we will seek input and feedback from our students, alumni, and stakeholders.  By late fall we hope to pull all of the recommendations into a formal proposal, and if this proposal is approved by both departmental executive committees, it will be submitted to college and campus administrators and governance committees for their review.  The overall process will take 18 to 24 months, so if we ultimately decide to merge, the earliest it will actually occur is mid to late 2020.  We need to be very thorough in our planning and discuss all of the pros and cons both internally and externally, because if we decide to merge we need to get it right.

So, if you’ve made it this far, I hope it gives you a clearer picture of what we’re considering and why.  Please don’t hesitate to reach out to me or other members of our faculty and staff if you have any questions or concerns. We look forward to sharing more concrete plans with you in late summer.