Work begins at 4 a.m. each day at the Foremost Dairy Research Center in Columbia – and it doesn’t end until 9 p.m.
Dairy cows need to be milked twice a day. Foremost Dairy has 210 head of cattle to milk, plus another 250 head of younger calves. That means extra help is always needed.
Dairy Farm Manager John Denbigh said Foremost Dairy has five full-time workers and relies on eight to 12 student workers year-round. Those students are vital to the operation – and they gain valuable experience while working.
“We have to have workers here on weekends and during the holidays,” Denbigh said. “It’s not an 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. job. There are no days off. The students have the opportunity to do a lot of things while they’re here, and it can be really beneficial to them.”
Denbigh has been with Foremost Dairy for 30 years. He started as a herdsman and quickly moved to farm manager. He said a majority of the student helpers are interested in going to veterinary school. A lot of the students have never dealt with dairy cows before, either.
Dana Miller is a sophomore from Jamaica. She got involved at Foremost Dairy through a Dairy Club meeting. While Miller didn’t have much of a concept of dairy cattle before, she’s jumped in and got right to work.
“I love it,” Miller said. “It’s honestly a different experience every day. I’ve helped with vaccinations and scooped poop. It’s definitely been a wide range of experiences.”
Denbigh has two full-time workers who milk each day and a student assistant who helps. Students generally start working with calves and feeding them. As the experience grows, the job responsibilities follow suit. Freshman Claire Magee grew up on the west coast in California and drove a tractor for the first time in mid-June, using it to feed the dairy cattle.
“It was a little messy,” Magee said. “I got through it, though.”
Senior Katelyn Adams grew up in Lee’s Summit and has enough experience to serve as one of the assistant milkers. She’s interested in veterinary school and said that working at Foremost Dairy has helped with that mission.
“John does a great job of testing you throughout the day,” Adams said. “You can only learn so much while sitting in a classroom. Having the hands-on experience is extremely beneficial.”
Denbigh said a lot of those interested in veterinary school are mainly interested in working with smaller animals, such as dogs or cats. However, veterinary school courses focus on several different animals, including cows.
“I want the students to be familiar with the livestock and the terms we use with them,” Denbigh said. “To go along with that, I want them to understand how to use some of the equipment.”
Foremost Dairy is located just west of Columbia, toward Fayette. Foremost is focused on conducting research on how to maximize milk output and efficiency while maintaining the health of the herd.
While operating the dairy is a full-time job, Foremost gives tours to several students and other groups. Denbigh said they usually have between 2,000 to 3,000 children stop by the dairy during the spring and summer months.
“We’re always happy to show people around the dairy,” he said.
Giving tours is another job that students can take on. Miller has given a couple tours to students already – and even showed her mom around the dairy.
“I’m definitely a city girl, and my mom is, too,” Miller said. “This job has brought my country side out, though.”