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1308 PD: Clovis attracts best and brightest for summer dairy program

Published on 29 August 2008

The “best and brightest” students from universities in the Southwest region spent the first half of their summer vacation in Clovis, New Mexico. Eighteen students participated in the first-ever Advanced Large Herd Management program, which ran from May 19 to June 27.

Universities involved in the program included Abilene Christian University, University of Arizona, New Mexico State University, Oklahoma State University, Washington State University, West Texas A&M, Texas Tech and Texas A&M. The program is part of the Southern Great Plains Dairy Consortium, based out of Texas A&M University.

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As one of the coordinators of the program, Robert Hagevoort, extension dairy specialist at New Mexico State University, had high hopes for the program from the beginning. “We wanted the best students willing to sacrifice part of their summer, and we wanted the best teachers. We wanted to be able to teach the latest and best in advanced herd management,” Hagevoort says. “We wanted to put together the best of the best.”

The curriculum
Nearly 20 instructors volunteered their time throughout the program to educate the students and covered topics such as nutrition, cow comfort and facilities and financial and performance evaluations.

“It’s very intense. We started at eight in the morning, and depending on the day, we ended anywhere between six and eight at night,” says Mike Hutjens, a professor of animal sciences at the University of Illinois and one of the instructors for the program. “Plus, the students had nightly assignments. On some nights, they’d have to listen to recorded information on CDs to prepare for the next day. They were busy.”

Hutjens, along with Lance Baumgard, associate professor at the University of Arizona, and Mark McGuire, professor of lactation physiology at the University of Idaho, taught what Hutjens referred to as “the applied feed and management area” of the program.

Hutjens spent three days explaining topics such as forage quality, storage and handling as well as concentrate considerations and ration balancing. Students put their new knowledge into practice at two 3,500-head dairy farms. They were split into teams of three students and performed a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) analysis at the farms. The teams then prepared a 10-minute presentation and presented it the following day. Each team member presented information and answered questions about the farms.

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“They did just a marvelous job,” Hutjens says. “To me, that’s real world. A number of these students could literally go out and run a farm or be hired for a feed company.”

Because of the diversity of New Mexico’s dairy industry, students were exposed to a variety of operations during farm visits. Hagevoort said that within a 20- to 30-mile radius of Clovis, students were able to observe different milking parlors, to differentiate between older and new barn designs, and to learn about dry lot management.

“All of these dairy managers are just amazing businessmen,” Hutjens says. “They treat their operation as a business, and they’re doing all the right things.”

In addition to classroom lectures, farm visits and lab instruction using dairy software, students also had the opportunity to hear from industry leaders during “Sponsor Nights.”

“The sponsor companies were able to give a short overview of their company, and then we asked them to talk more about what they look for in their employees,” Hagevoort says.

These companies discussed their company’s required qualifications and gave students advice for resumes, interviews and other techniques for “landing the job.” Some companies even set up mock interviews for the students.

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The students
In order to be considered for the program, students had to send in an application and a letter of intent.

“We had to talk about why we wanted to take the class and what we hoped to get out of it,” says Eric Hibbard, a senior in agribusiness economics and management at the University of Arizona. After being informed of the program by Robert Collier, Hibbard says he “jumped at the opportunity.”

“I want to run my own dairy, and I’m trying to learn as much as possible,” Hibbard says. “I want to be able to decide how to feed the cows, how to get the most milk out of the cows, how to build my barn … I just want to know as much information as possible.”

After students completed the program, they had a multitude of opportunities waiting for them. Hagevoort says many of the producers who volunteered their farms for visits also agreed to take on interns for an additional six weeks. Other students were able to arrange actual job interviews through the “Sponsor Night.”

“I’d say at least 12 to 13 [students], if not all of them, have a job or an internship lined up after the class,” Hibbard says.

Besides the benefits of securing potential careers in the dairy industry, these students were also able to experience another vital aspect of the industry – networking.

Hutjens believes all of these students will be working with one another in the very near future. He also said that working in teams gave the students the opportunity to realize their individual strengths and to learn from each other.

Hibbard agreed. He said he was able to discover the similarities and differences between farming styles in his home state of Arizona with other states in the Southwest.

“I’ve learned more in the past three weeks here than I have in the past three semesters,” Hibbard says. “And I’ve learned just as much from the students as I have from the professors.”

The need for the program
Hagevoort saw the need for the program after seeing the diminishing dairy programs in different Southwest universities.

“New Mexico State, the University of Arizona, and Texas A&M all had to give up their dairies because they didn’t have enough students enrolled in the program,” he says.

Hutjens says the Midwest is facing the same obstacles and thinks this class is a great opportunity for neighboring universities to combine funds and resources.

“All these universities are getting squeezed for finances, and in some cases, the number of dairy students is modest,” he says. “I think this could be another direction of a program you’re going to see done across the United States.”

Hagevoort and Hutjens also believe the dairy industry needs young people who are qualified to manage the increasing number of large herds.

“There’s a real demand for students who are trained with these skill sets who can go in and do upper-level management,” Hutjens says. “Employers need people who can trouble-shoot and make the right decisions.”

Future of the program
Because of the generous support of the sponsors, Hagevoort said the program was well funded and had a great first year. In fact, the students only had to pay for the registration fee for the course credits at their respective universities and traveling expenses. Hibbard was grateful that he and his fellow students were supplied with a hotel room as well as a stipend for meals for the duration of the program.

Hagevoort is hoping to get a head start on funding next summer’s class. He and the fellow program coordinators, Michael Tomaszewski of Texas A&M University and Robert Collier of the University of Arizona, would like to see the number of participating students grow.

“We’d like to have about 40 students next year,” Hagevoort said. “But we’re going for quality not quantity. We want the best and the brightest and the ones willing to learn.”

Hutjens and Hibbard both felt the class was a valuable experience and plan to recommend the program to others.

“I already told my sister that when she goes to college, she has to take this class,” Hibbard says. “I just can’t thank everyone enough who helped to put this class together. This is an incredible program.” PD

For more information or to help support next year’s advanced large-herd management class, contact Robert Hagevoort at . The 2009 application is due February 1 andcan be found on the Southern Great Plain’s Dairy Consortium website.

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