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Agriculture

A titan in the dairy industry and a University leader

February 21, 2011
by Coleman Cornelius

His devotion to agriculture began with Penny, a favorite Brown Swiss cow on his family's third-generation dairy farm near Johnstown. That devotion flourished when Bill Wailes launched a 30-year career in animal science at CSU, where he has promoted new approaches to livestock feeding, genetics, farm technologies and management practices.

Bill Wailes, right, head of the Department of Animal Sciences, discusses barn-ventilation systems while touring Midwestern dairies with Will McConnell of Florence, left, and Roswell Checketts of Greeley, center. Metabolic athletes

Such advances have cemented dairy farming as a top sector in Colorado’s agricultural industry and have allowed Colorado dairies to lead the nation in milk-production rates, recently achieving about 23,000 pounds per milking cow annually.

“These cows are metabolic athletes,” says Wailes, 64, a lifelong dairyman and head of CSU's Department of Animal Sciences. “Do you know that a dairy cow will produce 110 pounds of milk a day, and she will circulate 50,000 pounds of blood through her body to produce that? It’s just unbelievable what we’ve been able to do in this industry.”

All due recognition

Wailes’ passion for improving agriculture underscores his induction into the Colorado Agriculture Hall of Fame. The Colorado FFA Foundation will confer the honor to Wailes and four others during a banquet that caps the 2011 Governor’s Forum on Colorado Agriculture in Denver on Feb. 24.

“This really is a lifetime-achievement award. It’s meant to celebrate the accomplishments of people who continue to mold and shape Colorado agriculture,” says Don Thorn, executive director of the Colorado FFA Foundation. Some 400 attendees are expected at the Hall of Fame banquet.

Research into action

Wailes has boosted agriculture in concrete ways: As manager of the former CSU dairy, he put research into action, demonstrating the dairy sector’s potential with the famed Holstein cow, “Mama,” who set a world milk-production record. As an extension dairy specialist, Wailes translated the University’s scientific discoveries into improved daily practices for Colorado dairy farmers; he has fostered financial benchmarking and has led international visits to encourage competition and innovation.

As head of the Department of Animal Sciences for the past eight years, Wailes has guided research, teaching and outreach programs involving nearly 40 faculty members and more than 800 students.

“My desire is to make sure our industry is sustainable. That means profitable and environmentally sound. The animal-welfare part of it has to be the best it can be,” said Wailes, whose department, the largest in the College of Agricultural Sciences, has become aleader in food safety and animal behavior and welfare. 

Bill Wailes, a lifelong Colorado dairyman, will leave his post as head of the CSU Department of Animal Sciences in July to focus on fund-raising for a $20 million renovation of the Animal Sciences Building.   What’s next

Wailes will step down as department head in July. He then will take on a one-year special assignment raising money for a $20 million renovation of CSU's Animal Sciences Building. The plan illustrates Wailes’ dedication, says Dr. Bernard Rollin, University Distinguished Professor and renowned animal ethicist.

“No person I have ever met is as loyal to agriculture and to the agricultural way of life as is Bill Wailes. And, equally important, Bill is extraordinarily adroit at managing the emerging issues that agriculture faces in an increasingly urban world,” Rollin wrote in a letter supporting Wailes’ nomination to the Colorado Agriculture Hall of Fame.

Wailes was previously honored with the 2008 Jim and Nadine Henry Award from CSU's Alumni Association, and the 2008 Top Choice Award from the Colorado Livestock Association.

A deep background

Wailes, who lives in Fort Collins with his wife, Elaine, graduated from CSU in 1969. For eight years, he served as an officer in the U.S. Marine Corps, flying F-4 Phantom jets with the 3rd Marine Air Wing. He returned to the Weld County dairy business, but soon rejoined the University community, where his work would have broader impact.

“Bill Wailes has been one of the most positive and enlightening people I have met,” says Katlin Hornig, a student leader in the College of Agricultural Sciences. “He never fails to make sure his animal science students understand their value in life and within our industry.”

Wailes grew up feeding bottle calves before dawn, and as a high-school student gave up playing football – at least for a year – to fulfill the demands of the family farm. He was partner for a time in one of Colorado’s largest dairies, a 4,000-cow operation near Hudson. And he envisions returning to a more active role in his family’s dairy business, now based in Holyoke. Until then, he is focused on CSU.

“I’ve taken great pride in working with our faculty to be very responsive to the industry,” Wailes says. “What motivates me are the students and the faculty I get to work with on a daily basis. It’s an awesome job.”