Dairy Herd Health
Over the years, the herd has suffered several setbacks due to health problems. While it was one of the first in the state to be TB tested in 1892, the herd became infected with tuberculosis in 1907, and all but a dozen animals had to be destroyed. The herd was rebuilt, but in 1916, TB caused the slaughter of nearly a hundred head, and only a few survived. The newly-hired herd manager, Philip D. Jones, rebuilt the herd once again by purchasing a carload of Holstein heifers and receiving donations over time from owners of animals of other breeds. "P D" (as he was known) was herd manager for 40 years and, with the strong support of department head Andrew Borland, brought the herd much recognition during his tenure. In 1928 brucellosis caused the loss of 28 head, but there have been no major disease outbreaks since that time.
Known as the cow with the window in her side, Penstate Jessie brought worldwide attention to Penn State in 1928. Professor of Dairy Husbandry Samuel I. Bechdel (left) and Professor of Veterinary Science James F. Shigley (right) conducted a series of experiments on the contents of Jessie’s stomach, which had an important and lasting influence on the new field of research called Ruminology.
A 3.5 inch opening was surgically created in Jessie’s side and rumen through which contents could be accessed with a dipper. A crude wooden stopper was inserted to close the opening. Jessie continued to function normally with the rumen fistula.
Complete records of milk and butterfat yield were kept on each cow, since the herd was maintained for instructional and research purposes. In 1905 the herd average was 5285 pounds of milk and 267 pounds of butterfat. Another average available on the herd's production was for the test year 1921/22, when 44 cows averaged 7465 pounds of milk and 304 pounds of butterfat. In 1948, when Borland retired and Dr. Donald V. Josephson became department head, the herd averaged 11,489 pounds of milk and 478 pounds of butterfat. Currently, production exceeds 24,000 pounds of milk per cow, more than double the 1948 figure.
For a number of years, an overflow group of about 30 milk cows was kept at the Mitchell Farm, located near the present-day Housing and Food Services building. These animals were merged with the main herd when the new dairy complex was completed in 1953.
In 1926 Professor Samuel Bechdel assembled a herd of 40 Holstein cows and a like number of heifers at an outlying farm near Houserville (known as Farm 12) for dairy nutrition research. This herd was incorporated into the main herd in 1972. The milking herds were supported by nearby calf (Farm 10) and heifer (Farms 7, 8, and 13) facilities.
The Dairy Breeding Research Center dedicated in 1949, funded largely through contribution from the five A.I. Cooperatives, was renamed the J. O. Almquist Research Center in 1999.
Professor Bechdel was well known for his collaboration with Dr. J. F. Shigley, Professor of Veterinary Science, and their work with Penstate Jessie, known as "the cow with the window in her side." Beginning in 1928, the 3.5-inch wide rumen fistula allowed researchers to sample the contents of her rumen at any time and to make comparisons as to types of feed ingested and the microorganism's that were present. The animal's continued good health allowed the researchers to also work in the area of Vitamin B-deficient diets.
In 1949, another group of non-lactating dairy animals was established at the Dairy Breeding Research Center, located just beyond the present dairy production unit. The research center was built with support from the state's A. I. Cooperatives. The barns housed mature bulls, younger bulls, and females used for research and teaching in reproductive physiology.
In 1999 the facility was renamed the John O. Almquist Center in honor of the man whose work was instrumental in leading the unit to national prominence. Faculty members Drs. Robert F. Flipse, T. Y. Tanabe, and Rupert Amann all utilized this facility while making important contributions in the field of reproductive physiology.
Author: Donald L. Ace, Professor of Dairy Science