ST. PETER, Minn. – Dr. Joe Armstrong is thankful his veterinary education included clinical and hands-on training at the Dairy Education Center at New Sweden Dairy near St. Peter, Minn. It is useful for his current practice as a veterinarian for Anderson Veterinary Services in Zumbrota, Minn.
    “It’s such a large and busy place,” said Armstrong, who graduated from the University of Minnesota College of Veterinary Medicine in 2015. “You learn how to be around a dairy … how to be helpful and not a hindrance to the daily operations.”
    For the past 10 years, the University of Minnesota has partnered with the Davis family to provide on-site training to students at the family’s dairies, New Sweden Dairy, Northern Plains Dairy and High Island Dairy. The two parties recently announced they have extended the partnership to 2023.     
    Mitch Davis, managing partner in the dairies, is happy his family can help students excel at their education.
    “I think it’s doing a good thing,” Davis said. “It’s helping students get a base of knowledge and practical education they wouldn’t have gotten otherwise. They are discovering new products and practices. It’s all healthy for the industry. The U of M doesn’t have to use money for the [operating costs of the] dairy. It helps the taxpayers, students and the industry.”
    His family’s loyalty to the university comes from three generations who benefited from its education.
    New Sweden Dairy, built in 2008, hosts the bulk of the on-site training, with dorm space for students to live when they are at the dairy for rotations. Together, the three farms milk about 9,000 cows and experience 10,000 calvings annually.
    Dr. John Fetrow, a retired University of Minnesota professor, spearheaded the relationship.
    “This was Dr. Fetrow’s design – both the dairy facility and the academics,” Davis said. “It was his brain child.”
    Dr. Erin Royster, assistant professor in dairy production medicine, stepped into Fetrow’s place after his retirement. Royster said having students work day-to-day with a commercial dairy gives them learning opportunities.
    “There’s no place I know of where they get that type of experience on that many animals at one time,” she said. “To get good hands on training … would be difficult in the middle of the Twin Cities. It gives our students in-depth training.”
    New Sweden Dairy is the site for two types of rotations for veterinary medicine students.
    During the clinical rotation, students do procedures, treatments and surgeries, and screen several hundred fresh cows.
    In more recent years, the university developed a production medicine rotation that focuses on students examining other aspects of the dairy beyond animal health. They study the dairy as a whole system – nutrition, reproduction, milk quality, milk equipment and lameness among other topics.
    “It’s one of the biggest strengths of our program,” Royster said. “It’s additional next-level skills. Producers need a vet who knows their entire business.”
    Armstrong, who helped develop the rotation as a student, said knowing more than clinical treatments will be beneficial once students are practicing in the field.
    “The goal is to figure out how to stop fires before they start and avoid clinical treatment,” Armstrong said. “There’s so much more to a dairy operation than the veterinary side. Dr. Fetrow emphasized if you do only traditional veterinary work, you’re not helping that farm as much as you think. We have to help them help themselves.”
    The partnership between the university and the Davis family also allows for continuing education for practicing veterinarians along with training for non-veterinarians such as agriculture educators. It also supports research projects.
    “It helps us generate research questions from the students – what questions they have on a commercial dairy,” Royster said.
    Research topics have included transition management, reproduction protocols, dry cow management, calf housing and milk quality among others.
    Over the past 10 years, over 9,000 people have visited the dairy. It has also provided a training site for many veterinary students, and 1,400 dairy industry professionals in continuing education sessions.  
    “It’s an incredible learning experience for the students and the faculty because it’s a real dairy,” Royster said. “We’re pretty proud of it.”
    Armstrong is glad his future colleagues will have more opportunities to experience real-life dairying during their education.
    “It’s a dynamic relationship, and it takes a lot of work,” Armstrong said about the partnership between the Davis family and the University of Minnesota. “I’m thankful for the Davis family to allow the relationship to continue.”