PULLMAN, Wash. — Michigan’s and Washington’s dairy industries have a lot in common, and may share even more in the near future.
Miriam Webber, assistant professor in dairy management at Michigan State University, was in Pullman this week to interview Washington State University dairy students and professor Joe K. Hillers, who helped establish WSU’s CUDS program in 1977.
CUDS stands for Cooperative University Dairy Students. It is an educational program in which students buy dairy cattle, manage the herd, and sell their milk through the same channels that dairy farmers use.
Webber, a recent graduate of Virginia Polytechnical Institute and State University, said she is developing an undergraduate program based on experiential opportunities, such as those provided by WSU’s CUDS program. Her Associates Program is being developed with an endowment from a former Michigan State alumnus.
She said the WSU dairy science program, including CUDS, is noted as one of the best in the United States. “I want to see if we can adapt some of its values into our program,” Webber said.
Hillers said 12 students are enrolled in this year’s CUDS program. They own about 40 registered Holstein cows and do all the work associated with the herd, from purchasing cattle to artificial insemination all the way through daily milking and marketing of the milk.
Webber said WSU students told her in interviews that the most beneficial points of the CUDS programs have been “overall hands on experience, communication and interpersonal experience, teamwork, the attitude of whole CUDS group, and critical thinking skills that they’ve acquired.
“The impressions that I take back from students in your program help me understand what’s important to them in their undergraduate experience. What I learned from CUDS students will help me determine what aspects of our Associates Program are going to be most important in our students’ learning experience.”
Hillers and Webber said Michigan and Washington have about the same total milk production, but there are big differences in other aspects of their dairy industries. Michigan currently is the nation’s eighth ranking milk producer. Washington’s production is a little less, however, Hillers said Washington dairies lead the nation in milk production per cow.
There also is a big difference in the size of the states’ respective herds. There are about 750 commercial dairies in Washington. Michigan has about 3,000 dairy herds. The number of herds is shrinking in both states as remaining operations get bigger and bigger.
Webber said about half the students in Michigan’s dairy program come from dairy farms. Other students come from cities or from rural areas where they may have done farm labor. Hillers said only 5 percent to 10 percent of WSU’s dairy students come from dairy farms.
Webber also is visiting Cornell University to examine its Fellows Program. It is more classroom oriented, but provides students with opportunities to visit New York dairies and to study their management.
“Both Cornell and Washington State programs are probably the two most nationally recognized dairy education programs,” Webber said. “Virginia Tech’s dairy program also is one of the nation’s best programs,” Hillers added.
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