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A crash course in dairy farm management

Teammates confer at the 2014 Midwest Dairy Challenge,” Second from left: UW-Madison student Joseph Mulcahy.

“Learning about farm management strategies in class is one thing,” says University of Wisconsin-Madison junior Ryan Pralle. “But the real world is a different story. There are factors that we might not consider in class when discussing what research tells us is the best way to farm. Things like the existing infrastructure of the farm, or the farmer’s financial standing, can be limiting factors.”

Pralle had a chance to address some of those real-world issues when he joined 57 other dairy science students from 13 Midwestern schools at the 10th annual Midwest Dairy Challenge in Appleton, Wis. Pralle, from Humbird, was one of the six UW-Madison competitors.

Dairy Challenge was developed to expose students to opportunities the dairy industry. Working in four- or five-person teams, each with members from multiple universities, participants assessed all aspects of a working dairy farm and presented recommendations for improvement to a panel of judges and participating farm families.

Two Wisconsin farms, Sugar Creek Dairy LLC of New London and Country Aire Dairy of Greenleaf, hosted this year’s contest.

Max Luchterhand, a junior from Spencer, Wis., says that he says he was “stunned” to learn that his took first place among the six that assessed Country Aire Dairy. The experience will always stick with him, and will be invaluable in helping him run his own farm after college, he adds.The three-day competition offers students a crash course in practical dairy farm management—with opportunities to attend seminars on finance, nutrition and reproduction, play the roles of consultants, interview farm owners and inspect dairies—where they can apply their classroom learning out in the field.

As Pralle, whose team also took first in its group, puts it: ”It is a rewarding feeling to know that what I learn in college is making me a well-educated dairy professional who knows his way around the barn.”

Others UW-Madison students at the Midwest Dairy Challenge included Elizabeth Binversie, Joseph Mulcahy, Olivia Peter and Carrie Warmka. Dairy science professor Dave Combs and dairy management instructor Ted Halbach served as coaches.

The North American Intercollegiate Dairy Challenge was established to facilitate education, communication and an exchange of ideas among students, agribusiness, dairy producers and universities that enhances the development of the dairy industry and its leaders. In its 13-year history, the program has helped train more than 4,000 students through one national and four regional annual contests. NAIDC is supported through generous donations by 130 agribusinesses and dairy producers and coordinated by a volunteer board of directors.

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