When Dakota Agricultural College was founded in the early 1880s, every farm had a milk cow or two. A farmer could expect about a gallon of milk per day from each cow, and there was usually plenty of milk in the spring but very little during the winter. Fresh milk had to be used within a few hours. Cream skimmed from the top was usually kept in a cave or placed in a bucket and lowered into the farm well to keep it cool. Ice cream was a rare treat, and cheese making was mostly an individual art.
The Dairy Science Department was officially formed in 1907 as the Dairy Husbandry Department. However, instruction and research in dairying were part of the activities of the South Dakota Agricultural College for several years before a Dairy Department was organized. The first dairy courses were taught in 1890, nine years after the territorial legislature passed an act to establish the College and one year after South Dakota became a state. Dairy research became part of the Agricultural Experiment Station in 1901.
The Dairy Husbandry Department's name was changed to the Dairy Science Department in 1964. The Department has always maintained research and teaching programs in both dairy foods and dairy production areas. The Department led the United States in research on mechanical milkers while they were in the experimental stage. The creamery short courses were quite prominent until the early 1950's. Enrollment in Dairy Science has more than doubled since 1967 and the Department's faculty, teaching and research programs have become nationally recognized.
The Department has 13 faculty members, approximately 15 staff members, and 30 graduate research assistants. In 1984, the State Dairy Laboratory was moved from Vermillion to Brookings and is housed in the Alfred Dairy Science Hall. One chemist and a part-time student worker are associated with this operation. The SDSU Dairy Science Department has been deeply involved in all that has happened in the South Dakota and national dairy industry since then. Many changes, in fact, were initiated by the department. In 2015 Food Science was added as a new major to the department at the undergraduate and graduate levels and the department's name was changed in 2016 to Dairy and Food Science Department. In 2018, the position of Department Head was endowed through the generous contribution from alumnus, David A. Thompson.