It became the first university-based organic dairy west of the Mississippi and the second in the entire nation.

Chico State Organic Dairy Turns 10 Years Old

Seventy-five student employees, 800 calves, and nearly half a million milkings—the Chico State Organic Dairy has seen a lot in the last decade.

It’s been 10 years since the dairy celebrated its first year of production with a public grand opening on April 26, 2007. The year prior, the College of Agriculture had converted 85 acres of its 800-acre University Farm into organic pasture for the purpose of developing an educational model for integrated organic livestock and cropping systems.

It became the first university-based organic dairy west of the Mississippi and the second in the entire nation.

“At that time, only 2 to 3 percent of the fluid milk market in the United States was organic,” recalls Cynthia Daley, professor of animal science and director of the University’s organic dairy program. “Now we are up to 6 percent. Organic milk production has become a big business.”

Helping students and small farmers understand, preserve, and capitalize on those business opportunities has shaped the mission of the organic dairy program over the past decade, building on 40 years of traditional milk production. Each semester, the organic dairy employs 10 students on its Dairy Management Team and gives another six to 10 students hands-on experiences through the College of Agriculture’s directed work experience program.

With guidance from Daley and dairy manager Darby Heffner, those 20 students are responsible for all aspects of managing the pasture-based 80-cow herd.

“They do everything from milking to ration formulation and feeding, calving, breeding, pasture management and rotations, irrigation, budgeting, developing nutrient management plans, and interfacing with organic certification guidelines and waste management regulations,” Daley said. “Students really have the opportunity to be as involved as they want to be.”

Senior animal science major Kate Carlson came to Chico State with no agricultural background, but working on the Dairy Management Team has helped her to find her passion.

“I love working with cows,” Carlson said. “I hope to earn my master’s degree in dairy science and eventually manage a dairy.”

In 2016, Carlson was the first recipient of a new $2,500 Chico State Organic Dairy Production Award, launched by an anonymous donor who appreciates the work that Daley and Heffner are doing within the organic dairy industry and wants to encourage students to follow their lead.

Learn more about the dairy and other hands-on agriculture opportunities for students by visiting the College of Agriculture website.

Agricultural business major Alisha Wilmoth tests milk samples with dairy manager Darby Heffner at the Chico State Organic Dairy, where students take care of everything from milking to budgeting.