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MSU's jersey herd ranks top nationally
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Mississippi State University's herd of jersey cows is among the best in the nation, and proof of it can be found in the MSU Sales Store in the form of ice cream, cheese and other dairy products.
The American Jersey Cow Association ranks the 35-head herd nationally at No. 7 in milk production per cow with an average of 22,584 pounds annually. MSU's herd ranked 10th in protein with 779 pounds per cow annually. Terry Kiser, head of MSU's Animal and Dairy Sciences Department, said the herd also ranked high in milk-fat production, with more than 1,000 pounds per cow.
“I am extremely proud of this herd and Kenneth Graves, our manager at the farm, and his workers,” Kiser said. “They put in a lot of time, and they look after this herd as if they owned it. Because of that, the herd has excelled in production.”
The jersey herd is kept at the Mississippi Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station Bearden Dairy Research Center in Sessums, near the MSU campus. Head herdsman Graves said the university got its first jersey cow in 1908.
“Our herd is the oldest continually bred university jersey herd in the nation,” Graves said.
The herd is managed under Dairy Herd Improvement Association guidelines and monitoring. The herd made its national rankings based on the compilation of this data.
“These rankings indicate that we have a really good herd,” Graves said. “We started out with good genetics, and we've tried to breed our cows with bulls in the top 15 percent in the nation. That's where these high numbers came from.”
Graves praised the staff of five full-time employees and 13 students who care for the herd. The full-time employees perform the 2 a.m. milking each weekday, and students are responsible for the 2 p.m. milking and all weekend and holiday milking. Although most student workers at the dairy are Animal and Dairy Science or pre-veterinary majors, Graves said students of many other majors have worked there.
“We have good employees who do a good job and get the cows milked out, and we don't have a lot of sick animals,” Graves said. “Our herd has been managed well to produce this amount of milk.”
All the milk from the MSU dairy is processed on campus and sold as milk; cheese, including Edam, cheddar and jalapeno spread; or ice cream.
“We take pride in producing a very high-quality milk that can be used to produce the famous MSU Edam cheese and the Muscadine Ripple ice cream,” Kiser said.
Graves is working to expand the size of the herd eventually to about 80 cattle. Only one animal a year is sold from the herd, and this one goes to a 4-H member who will show the animal in competition.
In addition to the 35 jerseys, the dairy staff also milks 112 holsteins. At the end of March, the Bearden Dairy Research Unit was nearing completion of a $400,000 upgrade that renovated bunker silos, made changes to increase cow comfort and installed a new, more efficient double-eight milking parlor.