PULLMAN — There’s a lot more to top-notch dairy management than knowing what constitutes a quality cow, according to members of the award-winning Washington State University Dairy Challenge Team.
Elizabeth Dahl of Edmonds, Heather Freeman of Vancouver, Aaron DeHaan of Lynden and Bryan Bartsch of Abbotsford, British Columbia, recently brought home a gold medal from the 2005 North American Intercollegiate Dairy Challenge held in Pennsylvania this year. Twenty- seven universities from around the United States competed in the contest, which entails comprehensive reviews of real-world dairies and then presentations with recommendations to producers on everything from feed practices and animal numbers to milk marketing and waste management.
“Traditionally, our students only were asked to prove their skills in animal evaluation and husbandry,” said Raymond W. Wright Jr., chair of the WSU Department of Animal Sciences. “The Dairy Challenge takes a much more integrated approach that focuses on understanding all facets of the dairy industry.”
WSU dairy manager John Swain and animal sciences professor Larry Fox advise the team. Swain said the dairy industry has supported the competition with more than $500,000 over the past four years. “Industry leaders recognized that students were not coming out of college with some of the specific skills they were wanting in graduates and prospective employees. They created an opportunity in the Challenge competition for universities to focus on the important skills they want students to possess,” Swain said.
The Dairy Challenge “tests their cumulative knowledge of dairy operation,” Fox added. WSU’s dairy program also features an integrated, hands-on approach that includes the opportunity to make real decisions about a real herd through involvement in Cooperative University Dairy Students or the Dairy Club. Three of the four Dairy Challenge team members also participate in CUDS, Swain noted.
The issues facing the dairy industry today and in the future are hefty, the team members agreed.
“People are becoming very aware of where their food comes from,” Dahl said. This leads, Bartsch added, to producers having to manage”public perception of everything we do” from waste management and air quality to animal care and feeding. “There are a lot of misinformed people out there,” said Bartsch, who grew up on a dairy farm and is on his way to owning and operating his own herd.
DeHaan, who also grew up on a dairy farm outside Lynden, said another challenge is maintaining the profitability of dairy operations.”Because the milk price market is so volatile, you have to be the low-cost producer to survive.”
All four Dairy Challenge teammembers are seniors. Upon graduation, Bartsch will return to his family operation, and DeHaan hopes to work in the dairy allied industry as a dairy nutrition/management consultant. Freeman is hoping to attend veterinary school, and Dahl wants to work as an artificial insemination technician.
“The best thing about Dairy Challenge is that it’s real world experience,” DeHaan said. “You can sit in a classroom all day and not learn what we learned at the Challenge. We take what we’ve learned, and you have real producers valuing what you think about their farms.”
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Available for interview:
Raymond W. Wright Jr.
“WSU students Bryan Bartsch, Aaron DeHaan, Heather Freeman and Elizabeth Dahl brought home a gold medal from the North American Intercollegiate Dairy Challenge, a contest that tests student skills in every facet of dairy management.”
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(20 sec.) “The Dairy Challenge…this very rigorous exercise.”
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(11 sec.) “In the past…characteristics of the animal.”