Andrews University Board of Trustees Votes to Close Dairy

The Andrews University Board of Trustees voted during its June 4, 2018 meeting to shutter the Andrews Dairy, effective summer of 2019.

The decision was first announced by Andrews University President Andrea Luxton at the faculty board briefing later that afternoon. Andrews has faced a tough financial battle over the past several years due in large part to continued enrollment decline. Luxton stated that there have been “four years now of really bad performance,” noting that the fiscal year that concluded on April 30, 2018 found Andrews in the red to the tune of $2.7 million.

Segueing into the announcement about the Dairy, Luxton said that it was “probably the most difficult decision we took at the board meeting.” Due to a significant decline in the price of milk over the past several years, the losses for the dairy have been between $700,000 and $900,000 per year for three years now.

Luxton stressed that “this has not been poor management” and that there “has not been anything that anyone…could have done differently.” In addition to the plummeting milk prices, Luxton added that per capita, the amount of milk being consumed in the United States has also declined over the last 20 years, adding to the negative impact.

In an announcement released on the Andrews website following the president’s board briefing, the university stated that the decision was “made following an extensive study of the Andrews University Dairy operations and current marketplace for dairy products. That year-long detailed analysis led to the conclusion that it was unlikely there would be any potential turns in the dairy market that would bring the Dairy operations close to a breakeven situation.”

Luxton acknowledged that this will be a “significant loss for the university” as the Dairy has been “a key part of one of our academic programs and it’s given students work.”

Indeed, when it opened in 1907, the Dairy and farmland provided milk and produce for the campus, as well as opportunities for students to work their way through school. Over the course of these 111 years, the Dairy has grown from 50 cows to over 700 — the largest herd of any university.

Though it no longer provides milk for use directly on campus, the award-winning Holstein herd’s milk is marketed by the Michigan Milk Producers Association Cooperative, and is used by both large and small companies, from the internationally-renowned Nestlé to the locally-owned Old Europe Cheese in Benton Harbor, Michigan.

The 900 acres of cultivated farmland feature state-of-the-art, modern facilities made possible by a $1 million gift a decade ago. In a local newspaper article regarding the 2008 donation, then-President Niels-Erik Andreasen described the Dairy as “sacred ground” and talked of the income it generates for the university, stating that the last few years “have been really good.” In years past, when milk prices were better, the Dairy helped the university through some tough economic times, which is one reason the decision to close it was such a difficult one to make, according to one board member.

The value to students who require work opportunities to pay for school has only increased with rising tuition costs. According to the Andrews Agriculture Department, it is estimated that student employees will earn $175,000 for their work at the Dairy this year. On-campus work opportunities like the Dairy are particularly important for the university’s many international students, who are ineligible to receive U.S. federal student loans and whose visa status prevents them from working off campus.

Former student employee Jessi Mazigian, who worked as a calf feeder, said her time at the Dairy was her “favorite job, by far.” She described the decision to close as “very unfortunate for the college, the staff of the dairy, and all of the cows. It is a heartbreaking time. The cows and calves were so loved by the staff. It was a job you could look forward to coming into every day.”

According to the official announcement, a staff of 15 full- and part-time employees, along with 20 student employees, manage the current Dairy operations. When the Dairy closes in 2019, “as many as four of the full-time staff will transfer to positions elsewhere in the University.”

The fate of the Agriculture Department’s programs remains less clear. In a report written for the board by Agriculture Chair Katherine Koudele, the Andrews Dairy was described as “the finest facility in the Midwest.” The Dairy has consistently received the highest ratings possible from third-party auditors including Farmers Assuring Responsible Management (F.A.R.M.) for its dedication to animal welfare, cleanliness, employee training, emergency preparedness, and the many other areas of consideration.

The report spoke to the preferred consideration the Andrews animal science and pre-vet majors receive when applying to graduate programs because of the experience they’ve gained through the Dairy. Since 1996, 88.2% of Andrews University students who have applied to veterinary colleges have been accepted. According to the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges, nearly 50% of individuals who apply to vet school are accepted, putting Andrews’ rates well above the national average. Their experience and skill with large animals makes Andrews’ students sought after by veterinary schools.

These sentiments were echoed by several alumni of the Agriculture Department as well as Dairy employees who responded to request for comment on the board’s decision.

Carissa Witzel, a full-time dairy employee who first began working there as a student in the fall of 2013, said she grows close to the calves under her care and gives them names. “I’m having a hard time with the administration’s decision to close down operations. Mostly due to my emotional connection to the animals. I’m going to miss it very much,” she added.

Students Michaela and Melissa attempt to examine a cow while she attempts to eat their homework.

Aimee-Joy Cork is a 2015 Andrews graduate with bachelor’s degrees in Animal Science and French Studies who is now enrolled in a master’s program at the Veterinary Public Health and Epidemiology at Texas A&M University. She discussed the birth of her favorite calf at the Dairy, a Brown Swiss named Alejandro whom she said is one of the closest animal friends she’s ever had. Cork heard of the Dairy closing from a friend and said she was “devastated and heartbroken” by the news. “The Dairy played such a crucial role in my time at Andrews and my interests….Without the experience I had working at the Dairy I probably never would have gotten the 10-month internship I had in Madagascar with ADRA…teaching locals about animal welfare, and probably never would have gotten the current job I have working with horses. Even though I am not currently working with cows, every day I miss working with them because of the hoof-prints they left on my heart while working at the Andrews Dairy.”

Animal science classes at Andrews are currently heavily dependent on the hands-on experience gained by having access to large animals right on campus, with each class and lab utilizing the Dairy. The students learn a battery of important skills including obstetrics and neonatal calf care, perinatal cow care, diagnosis and treatment of metabolic conditions, and intravenous, intramuscular, intramammary, and oral treatment administration that are vital to gaining acceptance to veterinary school.

According to the Agriculture Department’s report to the board, it would be impossible for students to get this level of training at other dairy farms because a typical farm is not invested in education and not interested in having students on their operations working with their cows. And, as one alum mentioned, some students do not have vehicles and so would have a hard time traveling to off-site internships at other farms. The report described the alternative of solely book learning in this particular field as “hollow education” when not combined with hands-on skills development.

Animal science students Michaela, Melissa, Perla, Melanie, Elia, Krysti, and Jeshua prepare to perform pregnancy exams on the cows.

The Andrews Dairy has gained national and international acclaim in both academic and agriculture circles. Dairy Management students from Purdue University, Michigan State University, and Ohio State University have toured the Dairy as part of their studies, and students from as far away as Royal Veterinary College in London, England have completed internships at the Dairy. The Dairy is currently in the midst of a three-year federal grant-funded faculty research project that combines the efforts of the Andrews Agriculture and Medical Laboratory Science departments with the prestigious College of Veterinary Medicine at Michigan State University.

Jolene Birney, DVM, is a 2006 graduate of the Andrews pre-vet program who went on to study at Michigan State University, and now serves as adjunct faculty in the Andrews Agriculture Department. During her undergraduate studies she worked at the Dairy milking cows and feeding calves, and credits the Dairy with teaching her the value of hard work. She says that though she’s been practicing veterinary medicine for eight years, the Andrews Dairy is still teaching her new things, now in her role as a professor. She says she has “found the dairy to be an invaluable source of learning. The students examine the cows, learn how to calmly work the cattle, to humanely treat the animals for any sickness, and to respect God's wonderful creatures. I will miss visiting the dairy for class, for veterinary health visits, for farm harvest parties, and especially Sabbath afternoon walks.” Birney added a request to “please pray that the cows find caring homes that care for them as well as they were cared for at Andrews.”

Jeshua, Melissa, Perla, Elia, Stacey Nichols (a guest lecturer from VitaPlus), Krysti, Mike Harrington (an Andrews Dairy Feeder), and Michaela learn about cattle nutrition from Dr. Birney (front, center).

The fate of the cows is of concern to many who spoke with Spectrum. According to sources close to the situation, the 700-head herd will likely go to slaughter, a future one individual described as completely “antithetical to what has been our responsibility to God’s creatures since the Garden of Eden.” When asked for comment regarding the cattle herd, university administration stated that “over the next year, the Andrews University Dairy will look at the appropriate options for the future of its herd of Holstein cows, which would ideally include a sale of the entire herd to another larger Dairy operation. Since the Farm will continue its crop and related agricultural operations, existing equipment will be repurposed or sold as appropriate.”

With the closure of the Dairy operations, the Andrews Farm is set to expand its food crops, with the hope that increased production in this area will bring additional income to Andrews and help alleviate its financial burden.

Alisa Williams is managing editor of SpectrumMagazine.org.

Main photo by Justin Jeffery, courtesy of Andrews University. Additional photos courtesy of Dr. Jolene Birney.

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/8802

Too much “sacred ground” has been discarded by well-intentioned but very misguided church leaders, board members and administrators over the decades in this country (Loma Linda Foods, Harris Pine Mills, Southern Publishing, etc.)

It is unfortunate that the original purpose of the church and its institutions change with the times. Of course, this is what happens as we get further away from our origins as a movement and settle into a corporate model.

As someone who joined the Advent Movement as a teenager, I find all of these decisions disheartening and very sad, especially for all the people affected. Decisions made on economic grounds always touch individuals usually in the negative.

I think the university will regret this decision down the road. Well, perhaps!

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It is always an emotional decision to dispose of a dairy operation owned by an educational facility.

Profitability in the dairy sector is always cyclical, and in my experience is best suited to long established family enterprises with minimal debt, or corporate players with deep pockets. Educational bodies without large endowment funds usually struggle to manage the cyclical vagaries.

I do question whether the dairy was operating with the optimal operating costs. Fifteen regular employees appears to be a lot for a herd of 700 cows (in my part of the world it would probably be 5 employees), and the student employment opportunities could have been of a make work nature.

Andrews University is more of an academic school than a technical college, and the dairy reflects its past. Hopefully the land can be put to good use generating an income that is less vulnerable to international prices.

The closure of the dairy deals to a third of the deficit. The question now is, what is being done to ensure that Andrews has a sound financial footing going forward. What additional revenue streams will be developed, and what other costs will be eliminated.

If the balance of the deficit is not addressed, I can see a time arising when assets are sold to provide liquidity.

This is very sad. As a teenager one of my favorite ways to pass the boring Sabbath hours was to ride my bike down to the dairy to “commune with the cows.” I later got a job working there. It paid a whopping $1.67 an hour, minimum wage at the time. It was short lived however, as my father took a call to pastor in another state, but I always loved that place. True, milk consumption and prices are down. But speciality and artisanal cheeses are quite pricey and in demand. Diversify?

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I am a scientist and doctor and I went to AU from 1981-1985. I never had anything to do with the dairly slaughterhouse. I heard of it but had no interest of course. AS much as we know of humane ethics today it’s a shame it took this long to get rid of this disgusting meatgrinder. For every dairy cow(female) 1.5 male’s are killed for meat and 0.5 females are killed for meat. Women cows are subjected to inhumane conditions, trapped, locked in place, tits sucked dry, and put in a continous state of lactation. What if we put human women in a state of constant lactation? Oh yes, that’s called the wet nurse but that was done away with 100 years ago. Let these poor lady’s go out to pasture to live a life of freedom and natural surroundings. Almond milk is better.

I like your sense of humor:

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do we always as a church make decision based on $$$$$$
we can debate ELLEN G WHITE’S health message and we should know why milk was becoming health negative
my point of view is, with lost opportunity with 3 angles message by closing
how animals science and welfare and environmental are intertwined.

our students should be well tuned with earth like JESUS as farmers and many in the bible where,
and also ELLEN G WHITE’S messages.
this just cuts off opportunities off more outreach instead off $$$$$

your see the new age movement is asking questions against the bible

  1. Dominion over animals (genesis).
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LpDJlEQsDoA
  2. Questioning bible relevance and GODS character (like before the flood)
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0trBUN0V49I
  3. Headship animals are equal to ADAM
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jc71Yt7tREU

THO GERMAN RESEARCHERS ARE SEEING THE ENVIRONMENTAL ISSUES

ANDREWS IS LOSING BY SHUTTING INSTEAD OF REINVENTING SITUATION FOR
VETERINARY SCIENCE, SO INSTEAD WE ARE NOT INDUSTRY LEADERS AND ASKING WHY IS MILK CHEAPER THAN WATER
IS ANDREWS BOARD INFLUENCED BY WORLD TRENDS OR 3 ANGLES MESSAGE

read my answer to your debate
new age science ? you seem to be regurgitating YOUTUBE CHARACTERS
LIKE A COW WITH FODDER

that’s right meat and milk and animal products cause cancer ?
thank you SANITARIUM we have SOY MILK

we should close ANDREWS UNIVERSITY if these types of scientist are graduating
German’s are way ahead and we are way behind

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Unfortunately, soy milk has it’s own health risks, also.

But…yes, the Germans and much of Europe is far ahead of the US in terms of health. Adventists didn’t keep up with the health trends and are still eating too much soy and gluten which most of the “alternative health” world eschews. But…no worries, there are less and less vegetarians in every decade according to the Adventist Health Study. :grinning:

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"IS ANDREWS BOARD INFLUENCED BY WORLD TRENDS OR 3 ANGLES MESSAGE"

I’d say…financial concerns even though it was not one of your choices.

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Are these the only choices? Not both? Not something else?

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I remember 45 years ago after my mother died, that it was my job to do the grocery shopping. I remember paying around $1.30 for a gallon of milk back then, and 50 cents for a gallon of gas. Today milk is around $2.70 a gallon and gasoline is $3.20. I only pay $1.77 at Winco for their own brand of milk. What a bargain. I don’t know how any dairy can make a profit at these prices. But here in Idaho there are dairies everywhere. I only paid 98 cents for a dozen eggs. I remember as a youngster I raised chickens and sold eggs for 60 cents a dozen in the early 1960’s. Chicken feed has gone from $4.50 per 100lb sack to over $ 12.00 for a 50lb sack in the same time period.

Perhaps the cows and chicken should organize and go on strike for better prices.

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It seems that money and food trends direct events. Well it maybe must be this way. However, it was not as EGW envisioned it (what God told her). It seem like much of what EGW taught in regard to education does not matter any more.

“It is God’s plan that agriculture shall be carried on in connection with our sanitariums and schools.”

“Let the teacher call attention to what the Bible says about agriculture: that it was God’s plan for man to till the earth; that the first man, the ruler of the whole world, was given a garden to cultivate; and that many of the world’s greatest men, its real nobility, have been tillers of the soil.”

I think they should definitely “occupy”… :slight_smile:

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Regarding the closing of the dairy, considering the circumstances I believe Andrews took the right decision.

This, coupled with recent retirement of Homer Low, perhaps less bovine scat will need to be cleaned from our Lady of the Lake states sanctuaries. Man, muckin’ out those stalls as a kid for 25 cents an hour sure taught me a lot! When daddy put lights on the tractor, I ran away…

I do pity the future farmers, though.
How early do you have to get up in order to milk the almonds?

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Simon, the video is very enlightening; helped me understand there’s more to organic food production than plant-based diet for humans. Wish that instead of shutting down their dairy (like what La Sierra U did in exchange for housing development), that our schools would become industry leaders in health promotion as well as environmental protection. Thank you so much.

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baby formula very profitable

I like your logic as well. I know the stats and you are right, it was long overdue to get rid of the dairy and all of its inhumane practices. I have no doubt that they would have done as much as possible to make this dairy the least of the horrible happenings in dairies, but it would not have been possible to totally eliminate the kind cruelty you mention. It is a natural outcome of impregnating cows to get milk, and when their baby is born, it is taken away immediately so we can have their milk which we don’t need. The poor cows bellow for days sometimes, still mourning their stolen baby, and the baby’s fate is not too healthy either.

Calcium is claimed to be the big thing we need from dairy, whereas it doesn’t work like that. Milk actually robs us of calcium because of the buffering required to turn the acid load that comes with it by robbing our bones of calcium. The natural forming of pus in cows milk has long been hidden. Some of the figures regarding how much pus is allowed it sickening. Dairy has been well replaced by healthy alternatives. I know the figures vary slightly according to location, but this is in one location

ONE cubic centimeter (cc) of commercial cow’s milk is allowed to have up to 750,000 somatic cells (common name is “PUS”) and 20,000 live bacteria… before it is kept off the market.
That amounts to a whopping 20 million live squiggly bacteria and up to 750 MILLION pus cells per liter (bit more than a quart). Not a pretty thought I would guess.

We could discuss the amount of IGF-1, Roundup and other herbicides, antibiotics, and hormones like estrogen is present in milk. For some of this, think man-boobs. Have you ever asked yourself how farmers tell if their artificial insemination program is successful. They test the milk for an increase in estrogen, not good for most of us, think hormone replacement therapy and cancer increase.

For the sake of nature and climate issues, our health, and the sake of the poor cows, they are better off closing. Diversify, as someone has suggested, is what a number of old dairies are doing if they can.

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