New dairy barn enhances Ferguson Family Dairy Center at OSU

Oklahoma State University hosted a grand opening celebration for its upgraded dairy facility April 5 in Stillwater. 

The Ferguson Family Dairy Center was completed in December 2017 and the free-stall barn houses space for Insentec-system cattle feeding stalls, a maternity area and a data room. The Insentec system records daily feed and water intake by individual cows, allowing for research possibilities undertaken by faculty, staff and students that was not possible in the old facilities.

The additions and renovations began with a 2016 contribution from the Ferguson Family Foundation by committing $2 million to construct the state-of-the-art free stall barn.

“We’ve been celebrating a lot of facilities around here,” OSU President Burns Hargis said. “This is really a legendary program we have here and to have a state of the art facility like this is going to perpetuate the excellence we have in dairy education.

Also part of the upgrade is the Helms Hall student housing. Hargis appreciates the expansion of the dairy facilities and how it will help the program.

“It really begins the next chapter for another rich 100 years,” he said. “The outstanding students we have here are able to participate in a state-of-the-art facility.”

Larry and Kayleen Ferguson made the upgrades and additions to the dairy facility possible. The couple met while working at the OSU Dairy Center in 1975. Larry, an OSU alumnus, is now the former president and CEO of Schreiber Foods. Kayleen’s parents also attended OSU and worked at the center. The new student housing, Helms Hall, was named for her parents, Kenneth and Kathleen. Her father earned a dairy science degree from OSU and both earned education master’s degrees from the university. 

“The dairy industry is in my blood,” he said. “I grew up on a dairy farm, and dairies have been in my family all my life. It’s a special thing."

Larry talked with dairy center herd manager David Jones 4 or 5 years ago and convinced him to visit with a dairy industry partner and the pair started “dreaming” about what the OSU program could be like.

“We fulfilled a little bit of our dream, but we’re not done dreaming,” Larry said. “I’d like to ask you to dream with us. We can make this even better and we’re on that road.” 

Kayleen appreciates the honor to her parents with the student resident hall.

“In their honor we want the students to have comfort as well as our ladies in the free-stall barn over here,” she said. “We’re honored. My mom is honored to have this hall, and like Larry said, let’s dream for the future and make this an even better place for students to learn and further agricultural science.” 

Renovations to the center are expected to continue, Tom Coon, vice president of the university’s Division of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources, said. The Fergusons have challenged OSU to keep improving the dairy center. New equipment is being added to the existing milking parlor, which will expand research capabilities and capture individual milk weights by each animal. 

“We’re not going to rest on our laurels,” Coon said. “We’re not going to be satisfied that this is enough. We have more to do." 

In the coming months plans are to construct a visitors center that will have a robotic milker. Coon said there’s something “really attractive about a robotic milker” to visitors.

“It’s amazing to see the technology that’s been developed for the dairy industry,” he said. “The robots milk the cows and the robots know the cow.”

Radio frequency ID tags will be worn by the cows and will communicate with software that tracks milk production. Students will train on the same type of equipment they will use upon entering the dairy industry.

The Fergusons are serious about making OSU a national leader in the dairy industry and Coon is committed as well.

Sign up for HPJ Insights

Our weekly newsletter delivers the latest news straight to your inbox including breaking news, our exclusive columns and much more.

“It’s going to be fun to be the leader—especially in the southwestern United States—that I really think Oklahoma State ought to be,” Coon said.

The new additions to the dairy center are also a great way to educate people about how food is produced, Coon said, especially when those who are not familiar with agriculture can go visit the cattle or even watch videos online of the cows lining up to get milked by the robot.

“To get kids excited about science, technology and engineering and mathematics—seeing how to tie that into something as fundamental as agriculture,” he said. “Of course in the process we hope to be very efficient in our production so we can help finance the operation as well.” 

Kylene Scott can be reached at [email protected] or 620-227-1804.