Mad ‘cows’ protest plan to cull Cal Poly dairy herd

Some Cal Poly students Friday protested plans to reduce the university’s dairy cow herd by 80 percent.

Dairy students — some dressed in cow costumes — protested in the morning outside the Embassy Suites Hotel in San Luis Obispo, where Cal Poly’s dairy science advisory committee was meeting. Protests continued in the afternoon at the school’s dairy unit.

In a letter sent Sept. 30, Dairy Science Department Head Bruce Golden said that plummeting milk prices and state budget cutbacks were forcing the university to reduce the milking herd to 30 animals from 150. He promised to restore the herd once finances improve.

However, students are concerned that the cuts may be permanent and 106 years of building good genetics into the Holstein milking herd will be lost, said Theresa Machado, president of the Los Lecheros Dairy Club.

The Dairy Science Department has 130 students, 48 of them freshmen, Machado said. They operate the only dairy in the county, and Cal Poly is one of only two schools in the nation to offer degrees in dairy science. According to the program’s Web site, it is the only university on the West Coast to offer a specific dairy science major, and Cal Poly has the country’s largest dairy science program.

However, the state’s fiscal crisis has resulted in the dairy department’s budget being cut by 5 percent. Funding is expected to remain at this level through next year and further cuts are possible, Golden said.

But the biggest hit has been the falling price of raw milk, which has dropped by half this year. For the fiscal year that ended June 30, the dairy lost more than $450,000.

“The Cal Poly dairy is run as a business enterprise and, therefore, is just as exposed to this crisis as any commercial operation,” Golden said in his letter to students. “Like so many others, we have suffered losses that, frankly, we can no longer afford to absorb without making a radical change in our business strategy.”

The herd will be gradually culled to 30 cows, the number of animals needed to produce the 6,000 gallons of milk a month that the Cal Poly creamery uses.

The protesters said they are asking university officials to hold off on the reduction and explore other options. They also note that milk futures indicate that prices could start rebounding in February.

“We’ve held out this long through these hard times,” Machado said. “Why should we sell the herd off now?”

Reach David Sneed at 781-7930.