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1809 PD: Challenge stretches students, yields better future

Published on 09 December 2009

The Southern Region Dairy Challenge was held November 19-21 in Russellville, Kentucky. Students from all over the southeast quarter of the U.S. participated in the event.

Each regional challenge combines students from different schools and skill levels into teams. These teams must coordinate ideas, training and methodology and present their findings to a panel of judges who also visited the farm assigned to each team. The south farm milks 1,400 cows and usually has close to 3,500 animals to care for. They milk 4x for the first 30 days and then 3x after that.

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“It was a well-run organization and a well-managed farm,” said Dan Johnson, a judge that has been working for Select Sires since 1983. “They pay attention to every detail from cow comfort and reproduction to feeding and maximizing production as efficiently as possible. They take advantage of their size as well as pay attention to the details, so they can maximize profits wherever they can.”

The students on team 11: Leslie Hash, Clemson University; Deborah Mondt, Southern Illinois University at Carbondale; Adam Parsons, North Carolina State; Timothy Stroud, College of the Ozarks; Ashleigh Thomas, Mississippi State University, were equally impressed with the efficiency and productivity of the dairy.

“The strengths of that farm are the production and the level of efficiency that they have there,” Stroud says. “They are getting 1.2 million pounds per worker. The efficiency is excellent and they are getting those cows to perform at a high level but they aren’t sacrificing anything on cow care either. Nutrition and health-wise, they were one of the healthiest large farms milking that many cows I’ve ever seen.”

The SWOT analysis is not only applicable to the farms. While competing in the dairy challenge, the students become familiar with their own strengths and weaknesses. The farms that are chosen to participate in the dairy challenge are, more often than not, very well-managed dairies – making it not just a challenge to combine ideas and work together to come up with the best options possible, but really needing to dig deep to find real solutions.

“At the farm today, just watching their attention to detail as they walked through the barns and the questions they were asking the producer, it was obvious they were well coached. They knew what to look for and they didn’t miss opportunities to ask important questions,” said Johnson after visiting the farm, but before watching the presentations.

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The importance of the competition is not lost on the students either. They take the challenge seriously and hope to gain valuable insights along the way. One student said dairy challenge has increased her respect for dairy farmers, while another said it helped solidify her goals in the animal food industry, while others said it opened their eyes to a new perspective.

“It gives you the opportunity to analyze someone else’s dairy,” says Parsons. “Dairy farmers for the most part, as well as myself, have a tendency to think that what they are doing on their operation is the best that they possibly can. When you get the opportunity to go to an event like this and meet other people and see their operation, you start to think, ‘Hey, they’re doing something different than I am, maybe I need to start doing things a different way so I can improve my operation as well.’” PD

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