MSU students apply real-world training

Now Media Group


Seven Michigan State University students participated in the 15th annual North American Intercollegiate Dairy Challenge held April 7 to 9 in Liverpool, NY. A total of 247 students representing 39 colleges from across the United States and Canada participated in this year's annual educational event.

These students are training for careers in the dairy industry as producers, researchers, educators, financial analysts, nutritionists, farm service providers and veterinarians.

Dairy Challenge is an innovative two-day competition for students representing dairy science programs at North American universities. It enables students to apply theory and learning to a real-world dairy, while working as part of a team.

The Dairy Challenge Academy was initiated in 2013 to expand this educational and networking event to include more college students. Though Academy participants also analyze and develop recommendations for operating dairies, it is organized into mixed-university teams and two advisers coach the participants. In the 15 years since its inception at MSU, Dairy Challenge has helped train more than 5,000 students through the national contest, Dairy Challenge Academy and four regional contests conducted annually.

Members of the 2016 MSU NAIDC team were animal science seniors Timothy Frahm, of Frankenmuth; Kayleigh Gratz, of Allegan; Johnathon Thompson, of St. Johns; and Brittni Tucker, of Elsie. Three additional animal science students participated in the Dairy Challenge Academy, a workshop version of the national contest: Caroline Knoblock, senior from Ionia; Emily Peacock, junior from Morley; and Marin Western, junior from Croswell. Rodrigo Albornoz and Sarah Schmidt, MSU doctoral students in dairy nutrition, served as team advisors in the Dairy Challenge Academy. Dr. Miriam Weber Nielsen, MSU associate professor of animal science, coached and accompanied the students.

In this year's event, collegiate participants visited one of six New York dairy farms as part of their training to help farmers evaluate and adapt management practices to optimize success and animal care. Industry professionals also presented cutting-edge research and provided information about new programs and career opportunities available to students.

On the first day of the Dairy Challenge, each team received information for a working dairy operation. Armed with production and farm management records, students conducted a walk-through inspection of their assigned dairy farm before having an opportunity to interview the farm's herd managers. Team members then evaluated the information collected from the interviews, on-site inspection and farm-generated reports to develop a farm analysis and presentation that included recommendations for improving animal nutrition, reproduction efficiency, milking procedures, animal health, housing and finances.

The contest culminated with team members presenting recommendations and then fielding questions from a panel of judges. The official judges, who included dairy producers and industry experts in farm finance, reproduction, nutrition and animal health, evaluated the presentations based on the accuracy of the analyses and recommendation. Awards were presented at a final banquet.

MSU team member Marin Western explained that participating in the Dairy Challenge Academy expanded her knowledge of the dairy industry more than a typical meeting or conference would.

'I was able to network not only with people in the industry, but with other young dairy leaders who will eventually be in the industry with me,' she said. 'My team was able to overcome that we had never met before and really crack down on what needed to be done. We identified each other's talents and put them to use.

'It was also very interesting to see the farms in New York and how they differed from farms in Michigan,' Western added.' I believe the Dairy Challenge is a perfect way to get on-farm to put your skills and everything you have learned in the classroom to the test.'

Students from MSU receive part of their farm evaluation training through the MSU Dairy Challenge, held each fall. All undergraduate students with an interest in the dairy industry are encouraged to participate. Participants in the MSU Dairy Challenge have the opportunity to be invited to attend the Midwest Regional Dairy Challenge, the Dairy Challenge Academy and the NAIDC.

Ninety-two undergraduate, Ag Tech and veterinary students participated in the MSU Dairy Challenge held last fall at Nickleplate Farms, owned by the Reisbig family, of Ionia. Students in the advanced division must have completed courses in dairy nutrition or advanced dairy management. The advanced division and the novice division each drew eight teams, five teams competed in the Ag Tech division, and seven veterinary students participated in the veterinary student division.

Five students represented MSU at the 11th annual Midwest Regional Dairy Challenge held Feb. 17 to 19 in Wis. This event drew 82 students from 16 Midwestern universities and colleges. In the Midwest Regional, students are placed on five-person teams alongside students from other colleges and universities. Participants from MSU were: Alycia Burch, animal science junior from Grant Township; Brooke Densmore, animal science junior from Owosso; Daniel Dominguez, Institute of Agriculture Technology dairy management freshman from St. Johns; Ellen Launstein, animal science junior from Mason; and Raymond Powell, animal science senior from Williamston.

Support from numerous sponsors contributes to the success of the MSU, regional and national Dairy Challenge events. Financial sponsors for the MSU Dairy Challenge included: ADM Alliance Nutrition, AIS Equipment, Caledonia Farmers Elevator, Cargill Animal Nutrition, Dairy Farmers of America, Diamond V, Falmouth Cooperative, Genex, Merck Animal Health, MMPA, Nobis Agri Service, NorthStar Cooperative, Inc. and Antel Bio, Prince Agri, Purina Animal Nutrition, Vita Plus Corp., the Michigan Dairy Memorial and Scholarship Foundation, the Roger and Marjorie Mellenberger Dairy Associates Program Enhancement Fund, and the Frederick P. Halbert Dairy Memorial Endowed Scholarship Fund. Thank you to the Reisbig family and Nickleplate Farm and Matt Wood and Mark Case, with the lead sponsor Vita Plus, for working with the Reisbigs to host the MSU Dairy Challenge.

Additional information on the regional and national Dairy Challenge events and a listing of corporate sponsors is available at

Judges for the MSU Dairy Challenge contribute hours of time and effort: Julie Ainsworth, NorthStar Cooperative Inc.; Drs. Herb Bucholtz and Richard Pursley, MSU Department of Animal Science; Katie Pierson, Michigan Milk Producers Association; Don Martell, Diamond V; Dr. Rod Friesen, ADM Alliance Nutrition; Dr. Ron Erskine, MSU College of Veterinary Medicine; Dr. Kayla Clark, Sterner Veterinary Clinic; Joe Tarkowski and Jillian Green, Cargill Animal Nutrition; Marianne Buza, MSU Extension; and Matt Wood, Vita Plus Corp. Advisers for the novice teams included: Lauren Bush, Purina Animal Nutrition; Garrett Slavik, Cargill Animal Nutrition; Samantha Mamarow, dairy farmer from Saline; Casey Lauer, Genex; Brian Troyer and Jenna Taylor, Caledonia Farmers Elevator; and Cora Watts, Falmouth Cooperative.