Anita Oberbauer

Lessons in Sustainable Food Animal Production

Note: This interview was conducted in April 2014.

Anita Oberbauer’s father was a rancher, and he nurtured her interest in livestock when she was growing up. She earned a BS at UC Davis and then moved east to Cornell University for her PhD emphasizing food animal growth and development. These experiences instilled in her a deep abiding affinity for animal agriculture that is sustainable from environmental, economic and social perspectives.

Today, as a professor and chair of the Department of Animal Science at the university’s College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, Oberbauer is adding value to the UC Davis dairy goat program with a project that produces local, humane-certified, sustainably produced healthful goat cheese and related products targeted at the regional ag market.

“Our Department of Animal Science has long been known for its innovative animal agriculture approaches, and when an opportunity presented itself to bring our goat dairy to grade A certification—meaning the milk is harvested under rigorous standards and is suitable for human consumption—we jumped on it,” she explains. “The next logical step was how to best integrate student learning into the upgrade, which translated into creating a marketable product that our students could make, innovate and sell: wholesome goat cheese. There were local small industry partners interested in cooperatively addressing this niche for local cheese production and the idea and planning took off.”

What is important about your project—and where do you hope to take it?

Our approach of a small-scale, highly flexible, market-responsive goat cheese facility is unique. This is a fresh concept and will be a prototype for other goat cheese producers. Our goal is to provide a model resource for other universities and national (and international) producers to emulate, from the quality animal care, to prudent breeding decisions, to facility design and management, to cheese-making strategies, culminating in the marketing step. We will showcase the complete circle of sustainable animal agriculture. The beauty and the power of the project is that it has student engagement at every step. Involving the students brings in creativity; linking students to local producers is a perfect environment to explore and develop novel, innovative approaches to technology advancement for farmstead and artisan cheese. Best of all, we can supply wholesome and nutritious locally and sustainably produced goat cheese to the area.

What are you most passionate about in your research/work?

I find myself driven to learn as much as I can about most anything. Then I am compelled to share that information. I guess you could say I am passionate about education: mine as well as others’.  Sharing the story of sustainable food animal production, emphasizing sustainability at all levels—economic, social acceptability, healthful and environment—is extremely motivating. 

How will the seed funding help you advance your project and move it closer to market?

The seed funding was instrumental in obtaining the equipment necessary for small scale, artisan cheese production. Of note is that the existing equipment, which we purchased, is unique yet ripe for modification and refinement by some future entrepreneurs (i.e., students), who will see how the equipment can be improved or redesigned to meet the needs of farmstead, local goat cheese producers. 

What was the most important lesson learned at the Ag Innovation Entrepreneurship Academy?

The key lessons gleaned from the academy centered on the power of community: combining science with business to create a formidable enterprise fueled by the innovation of bright minds. The academy was invaluable in underscoring the value of community networks and honing skills to communicate the vision.

This project is funded by a grant from the Economic Development Administration’s i6 Challenge under the Sacramento Region Clean AgTech Innovation Center Development Project, Award No. 07 79 06923. The statements, findings, conclusions, and recommendation are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Economic Development Agency or the U.S Department of Commerce .