They will rest their rumps on gel mattresses, luxuriate in more spacious stalls, and get fanned by a cool breeze in the summer.

Soon, these very well could be the happiest of cows.

UW-Madison's famous cows — it's one of the few universities that still keeps cows on campus — will get a nearly $3 million upgrade to their digs.

The state Building Commission approved the remodeling funds last month. 

The Dairy Cattle Center is one of UW-Madison's most popular stops for visitors, where the public can see the cows that provide the key ingredient for the Babcock Hall Dairy Store's ice cream and cheese. Each cow averages about 10 gallons of milk per day.

"This remodel ensures we'll have cows in the city of Madison for the next 50 years," said Mike Peters, the herd manager.

The 88 Holsteins and Jerseys currently occupying the barn at 1815 W. Linden Drive are living in a facility built in 1956, when cows were much smaller.

In the last 55 years, cows have been genetically bred to be bigger and provide more milk, Peters said. A cow that weighs 1,800 pounds is living in a stall built for one that weighed 1,200 pounds in the 1950s, meaning her rear end hangs over the edge of the stall into a gutter.

The renovation will mean roomier stalls for the cows, better ventilation, a bigger milking parlor for public viewing, and wheelchair accessibility.

It will also provide three new feed silos. The barn currently has six silos but two aren't used because they are so decrepit, with a sign that reads "Don't Use — Bad."

The construction is expected to begin over Memorial Day weekend, Peters said, and will be complete by early 2013. During that time, the campus cows will be moved temporarily to the university's Arlington farm, about 15 miles north of Madison, which can hold more than 500 cows.

The advantage to having a herd on campus is that students can essentially walk across the street to work with the cows during a class period, said Kent Weigel, chairman of the dairy science department.

"It allows us to do a lot more hands-on teaching," Weigel said. "That's something most universities don't have anymore."

The good news for some people in the city of Madison is that the odors that emanate from the barn will also likely diminish because of a new system for handling manure.

"Part of our problem is in the summer, if you drive by, you notice our dairy-air," Peters said. "Some people in Madison don't want that country feel."

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