University of Maine – Witter Center
The J.F. Witter Teaching and Research Center in Old Town is the home for the College of Natural Sciences, Forestry, and Agriculture’s teaching and research programs in animal sciences and sustainable agriculture.
The Witter Center has two units: Witter Farm and Rogers Farm. The Witter Farm is the home of education and research programs in dairy and equine science. Research at the Witter Farm supports Maine’s dairy and equine industries, and includes studies on grains used in the organic dairy industry, fertility problems in horses and cows, and mastitis in dairy cows. Research and education at Rogers Farm focus on sustainable agriculture issues, including studies on organic grain production, bread wheat varieties, and organic crop-management methods.
With both farms located near the University of Maine’s Orono campus, they are an integral part of the college’s teaching programs. In addition to dairy and equine courses at the Witter Farm, a student group that formed in 1998, the UMaine Applied Dairy Cooperative of Organized Working Students—known as the UMAD COWS—is fully involved in operation of the dairy. These students are responsible for a majority of the milking and they assist with calving and perform other husbandry duties throughout the academic year.
For much of the University of Maine’s history, the Orono campus was home to cows and chickens, as well as students. In the spring of 1947, the university purchased Rogers Farm to grow additional forage for the university’s dairy herd. Then in 1972, due to pressures of a growing campus and a fire that nearly leveled one of the university’s old dairy barns, the Witter Farm was constructed on the edge of university’s land and the dairy cows were moved off campus.
Currently, Witter Farm manages approximately 250 acres of corn silage, barley, and haylage to support the 40 milking and 60 replacement Registered Holsteins. The cows are milked twice daily in a tie-stall barn. Current average production is 91 pounds per day, with 3.5% fat and 2.9% protein. The herd was the Agri-Mark Top Quality Producer for its region in 1995, 2006, and 2011. Genetic improvement is another top priority at the Witter Farm, and the farm received the Progressive Breeders Registry Award from the Holstein Association USA, Inc, in 2010 and 2011.
The Witter Center workforce consists of five full-time, one part-time, and multiple student employees and volunteers. Each employee is dedicated to the overall productivity and success of the facility, and is committed to enhancing the educational experience of all students using the facility.
We asked Jake Dyer, farm superintendant of the UMaine program, our Farmer Friday questions. Here are his answers:
What is your favorite thing about being a dairy farmer?
My favorite thing is having your hard work pay off. Whether it is opening that bunk of good forage and getting a great analysis after you worked to nail maturity in the field, having the cows hit a production milestone after years of progressive breeding and nutrition work, or working with researchers to help develop alternative cropping strategies that works for dairy farms in Maine and saves them money. Also being able to give students their first experience working with the dairy industry and watching them graduate and go into the field professionally is very rewarding.
What is your favorite farm meal? Care to share a recipe?
Grilled sirloin steak tips. Marinate, fire up the grill, and dig in.
What is your least favorite farm chore?
Changing tires on the full manure spreader in the field.
What is your favorite time of year on the farm?
Corn harvest. The weather is comfortable, you don’t have to mow or rake, the bunk fills fast, and usually the equipment can go into the shed for a few months when you’re done.
What is the one thing you would like people who have never experienced farm life to know?
That farmers are some of the most talented folks around. Veterinarian, mechanic, accountant, engineer, builder, electrician, plumber, welder, geneticist, food quality expert, grunt laborer, husbands/wives, mothers/fathers, etc. It’s all in a day’s work.
Click here to view a virtual farm tour of University of Maine – Witter Center