Jillian Fain Bohlen’s love of animals drove her to become a fan of dairy farming at an early age.
Bohlen grew up in southern Oconee County. After a family friend introduced her to the family’s dairy farm, it became the place where she spent her free time.
“Eventually, I would just ride the bus to their farm instead of home so I could play with the cows,” Bohlen said. “I would roam the barns, help when needed and just enjoy talking to the cows and people. That’s how it started.”
It’s now 20 years later, and Bohlen has turned her love of dairy cattle into a career in outreach, teaching and applied research in the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences’ department of animal science.
As an assistant professor of animal and dairy science, she works with dairy cows on a daily basis and, more importantly to her, educates young people all over the state and at the University of Georgia about animal physiology and dairy production.
A graduate of UGA and Clemson University, Bohlen taught at Clemson from 2006 until 2013, when she returned to UGA.
Bohlen has a 60 percent UGA Cooperative Extension and 40 percent instruction appointment but still maintains an applied research program that focuses on dairy cattle reproduction. She investigates problems related to fertility in dairy cattle.
Bohlen is studying a specific hormone that could be a marker of fertility in dairy cows. She’s looking at the levels of this fertility hormone in cows over the course of their lifetime as well as the events that impact this hormone.
The research program may not be part of her core responsibilities, but it enables her to contribute to the body of knowledge surrounding dairy cows and fertility in general. It also helps her connect students with future research opportunities in dairy science.
“It (research) helps me engage my students at the next level, and it gives something back to the producers who support our research and outreach programs,” Bohlen said.
Each year, Bohlen teaches Dairy Cattle Production and Management, Physiology of Reproduction in Domestic Animals, Applied Reproductive Management in Cattle and Swine and Issues in Animal Agriculture to students interested in livestock production and preveterinary medicine students.
She also advises the university’s Dairy Science Club, Dairy Challenge Team and the Jersey Active Management by Students Team, a group of students in charge of making husbandry decisions for UGA’s herd of Jersey dairy cows.
Most of her classes have a large hands-on component and involve students regularly working at UGA’s Teaching Dairy near Double Bridges Road off U.S. Highway 78.
“We have student workers out here doing everything from milking the herd to feeding baby calves,” she said in a recent interview about a newly renovated classroom at the UGA Teaching Dairy. “We teach a variety of different classes, from a basic animal practicum class to dairy production and advanced dairy management classes.”
Bohlen’s position has enabled her to go back to her roots and to introduce more young people to the world of dairy cows.
After her introduction to the dairy farm as a middle school student, Bohlen started competitively raising and showing dairy heifers through Georgia 4-H.
“My mom mainly got me involved in it, I think because it kept me busy, but it did teach me about responsibility,” Bohlen said.
Today, a large part of Bohlen’s Extension appointment involves organizing and promoting the 4-H Livestock Program’s Commercial Heifer Project statewide.
“I wouldn’t take anything for my showing years,” she said.