“It was state-of-the-art at the time,” says Mitloehner, leading a recent tour of the feedlot. “And it has served us well. But now, it is totally outdated.”

Mitloehner pauses by the tarnished feed mill, its pieces patched and repatched where maintenance crews struggle to keep the equipment running.

Couldn’t UC Davis contract with commercial mills to meet its animal feed needs? “No, because researchers are doing a lot more than keeping the animals (cattle, swine, goats, sheep, horses, poultry and others) alive and well,” says Sehnert, who has joined the impromptu tour. “They carefully control and monitor what goes in and comes out of the animals, testing for things such as feed efficiency.”

Mitloehner adds, “For example, we integrate additives into feed to reduce the nitrogen that leaves the cow. We work with very small amounts of additives, which need to circulate thoroughly throughout the feed. Much of our research depends on the ability to customize feed.”

Mitloehner leads us past pens where he and his team measure the methane in a cow’s exhale, using machines they built that exist nowhere else in the world. Two at a time, the cows breathe into a clear, plastic box which captures their breath.

“What is the carbon footprint of a gallon of milk?” Mitloehner asks. “Our research will help answer that question. We need good data to understand the true impact of agriculture on the environment.”

Industry and society depend on the data UC Davis is producing, says Ken Zeman, feed mill superintendent at Harris Feeding Company and chair of the industry planning committee that supports a new UC Davis feed mill.

“Dr. Mitloehner is one of a kind,” Zeman says from his office at Harris Ranch outside Coalinga, Calif. “His program is providing good, reliable information. His research is recognized worldwide, and his students are going on to become leaders in our industry. We need to do all we can to support that program.”

There are 1,000 undergraduates and 100 graduate students in the UC Davis Department of Animal Science. One of those graduate students is Clayton Neumeier, who is here with Mitloehner outside the methane-measuring pens, preparing feed in a cement mixer. “Yeah, it’s pretty low tech,” Neumeier says with a smile.

UC Davis animal scientists deserve better, says Chris Zanobini, chief executive officer for the California Grain and Feed Association, based in Sacramento.

“I’m thrilled our association has made the first industry gift, because when you have a program that good, you want to do all you can to support it,” Zanobini says. “I know others will join us, because the work Frank Mitloehner is doing with air quality — along with all the work in the animal science department — is important to our operations. It’s vital to our future, not just for our industry but for our state, our nation and our world.”

To learn more about the new feed mill and how you can help, please contact Frank Mitloehner at (530) 752-3936, fmmitloehner@ucdavis.edu or Martha Ozonoff, director of major gifts for UC Davis, (530) 752-1504, mjozonoff@ucdavis.edu.