MARSHFIELD — Faced with a number of students leaving central Wisconsin to advance their agriculture educations, Mid-State Technical College has taken steps in the past several years to convince these students to remain in the region.

Beginning with an added associate degree program and a renewed Memorandum of Understanding with UW-Madison’s Marshfield Agricultural Research Station, Mid-State Technical College’s expansion in the agricultural industry continued with this spring’s addition of a Holstein cow-birthing simulator.

“Some of the dairy operations in the area are having multiple births per day,” said Ron Zillmer, dean of Mid-State’s School of Transportation, Agriculture, Natural Resources and Construction. “When you look at the economics of the dairy industry right now, it’s tough. Every calf, every cow, if their health improves, we are making an impact on herd health within the radius we serve.”

The custom-built Holstein cow-birthing simulator arrived at Mid-State’s Marshfield campus in March. Mid-State Technical College Agribusiness Instructor Mike Sabel said the simulator will be used to train students in 12 different common cattle birth scenarios to protect both the cow and calf.

“Students will learn the theory in the classroom, but then they’ll be able to get their hands on and apply that directly and build that muscle memory,” said Alex Lendved, dean of Mid-State’s Marshfield campus. “When they’re in that high-stress situation with a live animal, they will be able to visualize and help that calf and that cow in need.

“We’re hoping it helps our farmers and industry partners to be able to save animal lives. That turns into dollars.”

The cow and calf are lifelike in weight and feel, allowing the trainer to realistically demonstrate 12 different positions that the calf can get into and how to manipulate the calf to achieve a normal birthing.

“In the dairy sector, there’s a growing need for large-animal veterinarians in the region,” Zillmer said. “We’re pushing the limits of those services. The producers felt they had to be able to do more of the calving and basic veterinary services on their own.”

Zillmer said the training isn’t meant to eliminate a farm’s need for a large-animal veterinarian but would help students who have received training on the simulator know what they can accomplish themselves and for what they need to call in help.

“All of our students are going to have ample opportunities to become proficient in the 12 common positions a calf could be in,” Zillmer said. “The technician at the farm should be able to identify, ‘This isn’t one of those 12. We need to get somebody here quick.’”

Zillmer and Sabel visited Fox Valley Technical College and Southwest Technical College to see how they were using their cow-birthing simulators and if the fit was right to bring in one of their own.

“We did our due diligence,” Zillmer said. “It’s a huge investment.”

Zillmer said Mid-State has offered two diploma programs, Farm Operations and Farm Business and Production Management, that reached different students within the district. Following some research of agriculture industry, Mid-State officials identified gaps between the needs of the industry and what the college was offering, which led to the creation of the associate degree program, Agribusiness and Science Technology.

In addition to its use in the classroom, the cow-birthing simulator will be used as part of the technical college’s continuing education or contract education programs and as part of area high schools’ dual credit programs.

“We want to wear this thing out,” Zillmer said. “We hope that it gets used so much that we would have to consider getting another one in the future.”

Sabel is working on how to fully incorporate the cow into the school’s curriculum. He said that calving will be the primary focus initially, but that there is the option to add an artificial insemination attachment and that the cow also has a functioning mammary gland, which opens up even more possibilities.

“We can do everything from proper milking procedure to doing (mastitis) testing,” Sabel said. “It’s very much life-sized and lifelike.”

Sabel said Mid-State’s coursework in the agriculture and farm programs is flexible and scheduled around the planting and harvest seasons to accommodate students who are already working in the industry.

“We tried to conform with the operational cycle of ag,” Zillmer said. “If they are working at home or for someone, we give them that window in the morning and get them out in the afternoon.”

Mid-State Technical College has campuses in Adams, Marshfield, Stevens Point and Wisconsin Rapids. Mid-State’s Agriculture, Food, and Natural Resources cluster offers the programs Agribusiness and Science Technology, Farm Business and Production Management, Farm Operation and Urban Forestry Technician.

For more information, visit www.mstc.edu or call 715-422-5300 or contact Zillmer at ronald.zillmer@mstc.edu or Lendved at alex.lendved@mstc.edu.