Fast-evolving WSU team wins first place in regional Dairy Challenge

Dairy Challenge team
WSU’s Dairy Challenge team at regionals in Fresno, Calif. From left, top row, advisor Marcos Marcondes, Usha Caldwell, Andrew Bartelheimer; bottom row, Sadie Muller, Tori Thomas, Grace Fields.

Demonstrating their problem-solving skills on a working dairy farm, a team of Washington State University students took first place in the 2022 Western Regional Dairy Challenge.

Held Feb. 24-26 in Fresno, Calif., the regional competition tests the practical knowledge of college teams, who tour dairy farms, identify challenges, and share solutions with a panel of professional judges.

Competing against three teams from two other universities, WSU Animal Sciences students Andrew Bartelheimer, Usha Caldwell, Grace Fields, Sadie Muller, and Tori Thomas used analytical, research, and communications skills to evaluate a California dairy’s operation and finances.

“We worked as a team while focusing on our own areas of interest,” said Bartelheimer, a junior and animal science management major. “We determine what to change and how, and then effectively convey this to judges and the farm managers or owners.”

Dairy Challenge teams have a history of success at WSU. In 2019, the WSU team took first place nationally at the 18th annual North American Intercollegiate Dairy Challenge. Members are often interested in careers in agriculture, and join to gain experience and useful knowledge of dairy. Past team members have gone on to careers in the dairy industry, in part thanks to the experience.

Dairy Challenge huddle
Washington State University Diary Challenge team members discuss findings after touring a large dairy during competition at Fresno. The contest draws on members’ practical knowledge to understand and solve dairy farm challenges.

The current team “has evolved tremendously this semester because of their hard work and interest,” said team advisor Marcos Marcondes, assistant professor in the Department of Animal Sciences.

“They’re always interested in class, asking many questions.” Their accomplishment is more significant considering that team members haven’t yet taken capstone classes such as dairy cattle management and ruminant nutrition.

Team members study the varied challenges that farm managers face, from livestock health to economics. Preparation included two Palouse-area farm visits, in which members showed themselves as highly professional and focused, Marcondes said.

“Troubleshooting dairy farms means being creative, as you need to see things differently from the people who work there every day,” he said. “They need to see the problem and come up with viable solutions. This team excels in doing that in every visit.”

In competition, teammates were “focused on learning more than winning,” Marcondes added. “That was their recipe for success. They were also perfect at understanding their limitations and worked as a group to overcome that.”

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