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Lifelong learning: Learning takes many forms

Julie Orchard for Progressive Dairy Published on 25 May 2022
Checking cows

“A picture is worth a thousand words.”

If that familiar saying is true, I can only imagine the number of words an in-person tour experience is worth. A whole book, perhaps? I’d venture to say that it’s especially true in the dairy industry.

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Speaking from personal experience, I can say that inviting consumers, industry professionals and fellow dairy producers to our farms provides opportunities for learning, sharing stories and networking that just can’t be duplicated by sharing photos or written articles. And the most exciting benefit is: The learning always goes both ways.

Opening the doors of our 150-cow robotic dairy to tours for consumers provides an opportunity to bridge the gap between our community members and modern agriculture. We’re grateful to everyone who buys dairy products, and we enjoy the opportunity to show people firsthand the care and dedication given to cows on today’s dairy farms.

After seeing how cows are housed, milked and fed, consumers better understand that it’s in our best interest to keep cows as healthy and comfortable as possible because that leads to higher milk quality and production. The better we treat our cows, the better they treat us.

We’ve hosted tours at our farm as part of the Agricultural Professional Partnerships (APPs) program presented by Professional Dairy Producers (PDPW). The program provides a three-day on-farm training opportunity that combines both classroom and in-the-barn experiences for ag industry professionals who have limited experience in current production agriculture.

I’m not aware of another program like it. It’s like a “Dairy Farming 101” crash course that gives participating professionals a broad understanding of the opportunities and challenges farmers face. After completing the program, attendees have spent a day on three different dairy farms, heard from the dairy managers and other industry experts on finance, dairy science, genetics, agronomy and more. And the participants are much better equipped to relate to and serve their farmer customers.

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I, too, have had the opportunity to be in the learner’s position. My sister, Jennifer Orchard, and I recently started making small-batch artisan butter under the Royal Guernsey Creamery brand. We use cream produced on our dairy farm, and we’ve had to learn many new skills along the way. I’m especially grateful for the tours of creameries and dairy farms we’ve taken as we made decisions about whether this was a path we wanted to pursue. The PDPW value-added dairy tours were particularly insightful on our journey.

Professional development for today’s dairy farmers takes many forms, from podcasts and webinars to in-person training programs. Every opportunity is valuable, but hosting a tour of your own farm or participating in an event at another dairy will always be time well spent. end mark

Photo provided by Julie Orchard. 

Julie Orchard farms with her husband, Ed Bacon, in Columbus, Wisconsin. They crop 800 acres and milk a herd of 150 Holsteins and Guernseys in a robotic dairy facility.

This column is contributed by Professional Dairy Producers (PDPW), which is the nation’s largest dairy producer-led organization of its kind. PDPW focuses on producer professionalism, stakeholder engagement and unified outreach to share ideas, solutions, resources and experiences that help dairy producers succeed.

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