Page Banner

United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Related Topics

* Goes to a non-federal site
headline bar
Image of the main entrance sign.
Main entrance sign welcomes you to the farm.
Image of the farm as seen while driving up the driveway.
Forage storage options include upright, bag, and bunker silos.

The U.S Dairy Forage Research Center Farm is located about 30 miles northwest of Madison on gently sloping acres bordering the Wisconsin River near Prairie du Sac, WI. The farm is an integral part of the research effort, allowing scientists to conduct a wide range of research scaled from large fields and the whole herd down to tiny field plots and individual cows.

UW Connection

The farm operates jointly with the University of Wisconsin–Madison College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, Agricultural Research Stations. The UW owns the dairy herd and uses revenues from the farm to offset operating costs and to pay the state employees who work at the farm. The dairy herd and research facility are also available for research by UW-Madison agricultural scientists.

Crops and Plots

Most of the 2,006 acres at the farm produce feed for the dairy herd. In turn, the fields are fertilized by manure from the dairy herd in a natural cycle. Large fields are also used to study cropping systems and manure management. Small research plots are used to grow lesser amounts of forages for use in various grazing, agronomic, and feeding experiments.

  • 541 acres corn for grain and silage
  • 340 acres alfalfa
  • 310 acres soybeans
  • 235 acres pasture
  • 90 acres winter wheat
  • 40 acres small research plots
  • 450 acres woodlands
  • Total = 2,006 acres
Image of a small research plot.
Research plots are used to study new plant varieties and managment techniques on a small scale.
Image of a farm staff memeber milking cows.
Cows are milked in a double-8 herringbone parlor.

The Herd

There are about 350 lactating cows on the farm. Livestock housing includes both tie-stall and free-stall barns which serve different research needs and represent facilities being used in the industry. Cows are milked in a double-8 herringbone parlor with automatic take-offs and individual milk weights. Cows in free-stall barns are fed from a TMR (total mixed ration) wagon. In the tie-stall barns, several small TMR carts are used to mix and deliver research diets to selected cows. The farm raises all of its replacements. Newborn calves are housed in individual calf hutches and moved to group hutches at eight weeks. At four-five months of age, heifers are moved to a free-stall barn where they remain until confirmed pregnant. Pregnant heifers are pastured in the summer and kept on a bedded pack in the winter.

Current milk production

  • 2x rolling herd average (as of May, 2013)
  • 27,279 lbs. milk
  • 3.75% fat
  • 3.04% protein
Image of one of three free-stall barns containing more than half the herd.
More than half of the herd is housed and fed in this free-stall barn.
Image of a row of outdoor calf hutches.
Calves are housed in 54 hutches, the healthiest way to raise newborns.

Research Efforts

At any given time there may be 15–25 different research projects being conducted at the farm. The research falls into four main categories:

  1. Understanding how dairy cows digest and utilize forages;
  2. improving forages so they are better used by dairy cows;
  3. improving methods of harvesting and storing forages;
  4. and studying the impact of dairy systems on the environment to help dairy farmers know the best ways to protect the environment and efficiently recycle the nutrients in manure—from crop to cow to manure and back to the crop.
Image of a USDFRC technician taking a rumen sample from a fistulated cow.
A USDFRC research technician takes a rumen sample from a fistulated,or cannulatedcow. These cows are surgically equipped with a permanent opening that allows direct access to the rumen's contents for studies on digestibility.
Image of a cows on a grazing research plot.
Grazing research at the farm includes this study to see which species of grasses are most preferred by the heifers.

Unique Heritage

Efforts to establish a USDA dairy research facility date back to the late 1950s. But it wasn't until the 1970s when planning began for this facility and Congress appropriated the funds. Construction of the farm facilities began in 1980; this same year the first animals were brought to the farm.

The land on which this farm is located has a rich and unique history. First inhabited by Native Americans, European settlers began turning it into farmland in the 1830s. Then, at the dawn of the U.S. entry into World War II, the Department of Defense confiscated the land from 80 farm families in order to build a munitions factory. Known as the Badger Army Ordnance and later the Badger Army Ammunition Plant (BAAP), the facility manufactured gun and rocket powder during World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War. It was put on standby status in 1976.

When the USDA was looking for a site for this research farm, it obtained a special permit through the U.S. Department of Defense to farm about 1,500 acres of the 7,354-acre BAAP site for 20 years at no cost. In 1999 the USDA started making lease payments. And in September of 2004, the USDA received custody of 1,943 acres of the BAAP.

Image of a cow and her calves during the early days of the farm.
Many of the original animals at the farm were the result of embryo transfer (ET) from cows in the UW herd. This photo shows one cow with her 10 ET offspring.
Image of a cornfield overlooking abandoned buildings from the Badger Army Ammunition Plant.
Abandoned buildings from the former Badger Army Ammunition Plant loom on the horizon.


Richard P. Walgenbach
Research Agronomist and Farm Manager

Ronald L. Skoyen
Herd Manager 

Arrange a Tour

The farm is a popular stop for visitors from around the world throughout the year. Individuals or groups are welcome at any time and can arrange a tour by contacting the farm.


U.S. Dairy Forage Research Farm
S8822 Sunset Dr. (off of Hwy. 78)
Prairie du Sac, WI 53578

Local:(608) 643-2438
Federal:(608) 264-5138/9

Last Modified: 6/7/2013