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The U.S. Dairy Education and Training Consortium: A program worth investing in

Contributed by Nicole Van Eerd Published on 13 July 2018
U.S. Dairy Education and Training Consortium students

On May 13, 2018, 57 students from 14 different states assembled at the Kings Inn in Clovis, New Mexico, and slowly began mingling, introducing themselves to many and reconnecting with a few.

Why? Eleven years ago, as the dairy science programs at several universities began to decline, Dr. Michael Tomaszewski from Texas A&M University, Dr. Bob Collier from the University of Arizona and Dr. Robert Hagevoort from New Mexico State University had a vision for restoring the ability of students in the Southwest to gain an education in dairy science. Realizing that it was easier to bring the students to the dairies than vice versa, the foundation for the U.S. Dairy Education and Training Consortium (USDETC) was developed. Facing many challenges, these individuals worked with companies, producers and universities to create a program that allowed students passionate about the dairy industry to receive access to hands-on experiences on dairies, knowledge from renowned dairy science professors and professional connections within the industry. Since its founding, the USDETC has graduated 480 students, growing from 18 students in 2008 to this year’s class of 57 and spreading far beyond the reaches of the Southwestern states.



Mike Hutjens

In addition to the USDETC providing an incredible educational experience for the students, it also allows members of the dairy industry to invest in the future. Students have access to presentations, professional connections and potential internships and job opportunities as they interact with sponsoring companies. These opportunities allow the companies to share their industry knowledge, forecasts for the future and connect with students planning on returning to the dairy industry, which is a direct investment into future producers, industry leaders and educators.

Census research from USDETC graduates has revealed that four out of five students remain in the agriculture industry overall, with two out of three students working within the dairy and allied industries, and the other one out of three working directly on a dairy. USDETC also provides the opportunity for students to hear from the Beef Council, receive Beef Quality Assurance certification, attend the Dairy Producers of New Mexico annual meeting and trade show, and additional unique occasions for networking and education.

USDETC has inflicted powerful impacts on students from a wide variety of backgrounds. John Vander Hulst is responsible for the breeding program at his family dairy, West Point Farms, in Wendell, Idaho. While at USDETC, John said, “Through the consortium, I am able to develop a stronger knowledge base on how the different breeding protocols work, learning the science behind what I have been doing my whole life.”

U.S. Dairy Education and Training Consortium


Owen Feenstra from Feenstra Dairies in Stanfield, Arizona, said, “The quality of professors and content throughout this whole program is phenomenal. Expanding my knowledge of the industry off-site has helped me gain an outside perspective, and I am excited to get back home and put it into practice.”

Alex Te Velde from Lone Oak Farms in Hanford, California, also has a strong appreciation for USDETC. He said, “I think one of the greatest things we learn is perspective. A lot of us grow up on our families’ farms doing things one certain way, and seeing the variety of dairies and practices here opens our eyes to other methods and ideas.”

In addition to students from dairies being able to return with expanded knowledge and new ideas for their own family operations, students from limited or no dairy background also obtain immense benefits.

U.S. Dairy Education and Training Consortium students playing in feed

Haley Hill from Cleburne, Texas, returned to USDETC this year for the second session and views the program through the lens of an Albert Einstein quote: “Education is what remains after one has forgotten everything we have learned in school.” She said, “Coming from a nondairy background, the consortium has been a beneficial chance to develop an overall knowledge of the industry and understand what opportunities are out there to apply ourselves within it.”

Marta Pulfer from Wayne, Nebraska, said, “This experience has given me a broader view of the dairy industry and excitement for opportunities in which I can see myself in the future. The depth of knowledge presented allows for students from all backgrounds to get a grasp on what the dairy industry is and is going toward, and where they can fit in.”


USDETC has two sessions, allowing students who have attended before or who come from an extensive dairy background to take the advanced session, while students who have less experience are able to start with the basics and build a strong foundation for improved comprehension. In both sessions, there are a variety of students interested in different aspects of the dairy industry including veterinary science, nutrition, reproduction, academia, dairy business and more. These students not only benefit from interacting with students from dairy backgrounds who can share their experience and knowledge, but also from the unique ability to visit over 30 different dairies in New Mexico and Texas. Students receive a comprehensive view of the industry and how different operations adjust their practices to match their specific needs as well as the cycles of the dairy industry.

U.S. Dairy Education and Training Consortium students

No matter what background a student has, or what their goals for the future are, USDETC provides the opportunity to develop professionally, academically and personally. It is a life-changing opportunity for college students passionate about advancing their knowledge of the dairy industry to connect with other students from across the country and learn from nationally recognized professors.

Additionally, interacting with professionals allows for firsthand experiences in every aspect of the dairy industry, including advancements and career opportunities. Numerous students walk away at the end of the summer with an internship or career in the dairy industry secured.

As a student at the USDETC, it is impossible to imagine a program more life-changing and beneficial for preparing for the future. Speaking for all 57 of us, the number one factor for coming to Clovis, New Mexico, is gaining a clearer focus on the desired path ahead, as well as receiving the experience, connections and knowledge to make that dream a reality. There are countless personal testimonies, including how coming to USDETC changed majors to pathways leading into dairy science, opened new possibilities for growth and advancements for students desiring to run their family dairy, and every individual story in between.

student looking in microscope

This experience is one of the most incredible opportunities for any passionate animal science student in the U.S., and we are immeasurably grateful to every dairy producer, company, university, organization and community who has supported USDETC over the past 11 years, and all who will continue to invest in this powerful program and the future of the dairy industry. From all 480 of us USDETC graduates, “Thank you!”  end mark

Nicole Van Eerd is a student at the University of Arizona. Email Nicole Van Eerd.

PHOTO 1: The 2018 consortium students raise a glass for Global Milk Day.

PHOTO 2: Students learn about shaker boxes and the importance of properly formulated and evenly mixed rations from renowned professor, Mike Hutjens, during nutrition week.

PHOTO 3: USDETC students learning about diverse aspects of the cattle industry and nutrition at Cactus Feeders Wrangler Feedyard, a company that hired a USDETC graduate from Idaho after he toured the facility with the consortium in 2017.

PHOTO 4: Regardless of their background, USDETC students are able to develop a knowledge of every aspect of dairy production and build upon their previous experiences, including learning how ration formulation can vary greatly between different operations.

PHOTO 5: USDETC students after experiencing a personalized tour of the Hi-Pro Feeds feed mill, including a presentation on career development.

PHOTO 6: Olivia Lasater from Hamilton, Texas, inspects a freshly collected sample of semen for motility and viability during reproduction week. Photos provided by U.S. Dairy Education and Training Consortium.