Florida to expand beef teaching unit

Legislative allotment of $2.6 million will allow University of Florida to complete Beef Teaching Unit expansion.

Students in the University of Florida Institute of Food & Agricultural Sciences (IFAS) animal sciences department will benefit from a top-notch cattle teaching facility in Gainesville, Fla., thanks to a $2.6 million legislative allotment this year.

That’s one of many advantages of the $3.6 million expansion to the IFAS Beef Teaching Unit. The facility will house 5,000 sq. ft. of multipurpose enclosed space and another 15,000 sq. ft. for cattle pens and working area. The Florida state legislature allotted $1 million toward the Beef Teaching Unit in its 2015 session. Phase 1 of the expansion is expected to be completed by August or September, while phase 2 should be done in 2017, Geoff Dahl, chair of the IFAS animal sciences department, said.

Jack Payne, University of Florida senior vice president for agriculture and natural resources, lauded the expanded Beef Teaching Unit, saying, “With the expansion of the IFAS Beef Teaching Unit, our students, faculty and staff can learn, teach and conduct cattle research and extension programs that are second to none in the nation.”

Dahl said among many reasons he’s happy about the Beef Teaching Unit expansion are that it can house some of his 500-plus undergraduate majors.

“We’ve not been able to house students out there for at least six years,” Dahl said. “We will able to house a limited number of students in the new facility. That’s a great advantage to our students. The handling facilities were old and worn out, and the new facilities will be state of the art and will allow us to more effectively train students.”

Beef is big business in Florida. Nine of the top 25 beef cattle producers in the nation are located in Florida. Beef producers own about 1.6 million beef cattle, according to the Florida Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services. The latest figures collected by IFAS reveal that livestock and the animal product industries generated more than 25,000 jobs and $1.75 billion in value-added continuations to the state's gross domestic product.

In addition to the building, the unit consists of an 80-acre farm that includes a 100-head commercial feedyard and a 35-head cow herd of various types, sizes and production ability. Faculty use Charolais, Angus, Red Angus, Gelbvieh, Hotlander, Braunvieh, Brahman and Brangus bulls to breed cattle of various types.

An expanded bleacher capacity around the handling facilities will help with education and extension programming, Dahl said. Although animal science has other facilities designated for research, the new handling and feedlot space will be ideal for small research projects, especially ones aimed toward undergraduate involvement, he said.

“Overall, the increased capacity will enable us to accommodate more students in our program,” Dahl said.

The support of the Florida Cattlemen’s Assn. throughout the process has been crucial to expanding the Beef Teaching Unit. Other stakeholders helped get the unit expanded, making it consistent with the best at any land-grant university, Dahl said.

“Those folks did a great job lining up support for this project,” he said. Dahl also credited faculty and staff in the department with working with stakeholders and help with the design of the facility.

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