Before the doors open for the 52nd World Dairy Expo, there's lots of work to do

John Oncken

When the gates to World Dairy Expo opened at 9 a.m. Tuesday  the rows of exhibits in the huge outdoor exhibit space (normally a parking lot) were all in place with sales representatives waiting behind counters or tables ready to greet visitors.

The was the same in the big exhibition hall and long lobby. Signs were in place and informational  literature all stacked neatly in place.

I recently got to thinking: Do the thousands of visitors ever wonder how all these exhibits full of dairy equipment, bottles, boxes and people got there and when? Probably not and why should they? After all, these companies and organizations are there to sell things and answer questions from dairy folks who may already own the products and want to talk with the experts from the companies.

Hauling cattle feed into the barn , someone has to do it.

Almost ready

I walked through the Exhibition Hall on Monday before Dairy Expo opened. Walking was actually not easy, I sort of “snaked” my way through the sea of big shipping boxes and partially assembled exhibits. Of course, there were people assembling the booths, putting up signs and making sure everything was in place.

Five people were working hard to assemble the Nutriad (a feed additive supplier from Hampshire, Illinois) exhibit and were apparently a bit behind in their work. “The company we hired to help put up the booth didn’t show up,” one of the workers said. “Fortunately  two people from Alliant Energy offered to help and it will all work out.”

On Monday, Exhibition Hall was piled high with boxes.

Who does the actual work in erecting a company exhibit? The company sales representatives often serve as the “labor.” In some cases there are special marketing/promotion crews that take care of the project and advertising agencies are much involved in the larger companies.

Lots of people

Breeana DeVerger, Product Marketing and Communications Manager at Philbro (animal health), of Quincy, Illinois, and two helpers were just finishing their exhibit. “Part of the display was shipped from New Jersey by our ad agency and some came from another show in  Arizona,” she says. “We’ll have about 40 people in the booth during the five days of the show. It’s an expensive event for our company."

After a lot of work the exhibit is ready for opening day.

How expensive, I wondered?

Estimates (from unnamed companies) ranged from $10,000 to $20,000 or more over the course of the week. This includes travel, housing, food and extra people hired. “But, remember, many of our people work for us and would be paid even if they were not working here” an exhibitor explained. "Shows are expensive so we have to sell our products. But that’s why we’re here.”

Not yet

I asked several exhibitors about any concerns they might have about the dramatic decrease in dairy herd numbers. “Not right now,” was the common response. “Yes, there are fewer owners but the cows are still here and that’s who uses our products.“

By late Monday afternoon, the exhibits from about 750 companies were all in place in the various display venues and ready to welcome visitors the next five days.

The cattle

Meanwhile, the dairy cattle were all stabled in their new vacation home after trips of maybe a few miles to thousands of miles. The barns were still in a state of clutter as the move-in process was not quite finished: routines being established; information signs mounted above each animal; bedding arranged; barn duties scheduled and the exhibitors' promotional display put up.

Then there are the square tents set up and arranged for storage, eating and sleeping.  Note: Each tent takes the space of maybe three cows and are used by larger cattle exhibitors from a far distance and lots of people and gear.

All kinds and sizes

Dairy exhibitors range from mega operations to very small milking/show herds. This is not where the beginning 4-H'er would get  their start, it’s the world of professionals from breeders to fitters.

Walking the cattle after a long trailer ride.

For cattle exhibitors coming from a long distance, getting a trailer of animals of mixed ages from the farm to Dairy Expo is a major effort. Daniel Sargent who was working for Avon Lea farm at Brighton, Ontario, and their 15 head exhibit said “We left after chores Wednesday night and milked the cows at London, Ontario, before driving on to Madison."

Interestingly, Sargent owns his own herd of 55 cows which were being milked by his dad and a hired man. “Don’t you have to pay the hired man?” I asked.  “Yes, Avon Lea pays me for my work at Expo and I pay the hired man and I come out about even, “ Sargent says, “ but, this was my first chance to get to Dairy Expo and I didn’t want to miss it.  

Cows must be milked.

I asked him about the much discussed milk quota system used in Canada. “I think it’s great," he said. “Small farmers like me can stay in business and make a profit and if you want to quit you can sell the quota and have money for a new life if you want to."

From North Dakota

Sue Kleingartner and her daughter, Sydney, brought 5 animals (4 Aryshires, 1 Brown Swiss)  from Gackel, North Dakota. “We milk 100 cows in a herd that includes all seven breeds,” Sue says. “We started with Holsteins and gradually added more breeds, but we’re still mainly Holstein.

Sue Kleingartner (left) and her daughter, Sydney  from Gackel, North Dakota, brought three Ayrshires and a Brown Swiss.

Kleingarner says the due left home at 4 a.m. Saturday and got to Wisconsin 12 hours later. Husband, Ross, and son, Lane, 23, are home taking care of the farm.

"Sydney, a sophomore in high school, will do the showing and I’ll get them ready," she said. "We may be the only exhibitors from North Dakota. I haven’t seen any others but we only have about 70 dairy herds in the state."

I commented that I’d never heard of Gackel, North Dakota. “It’s a really small town 100 miles west of Fargo,”  Sydney said. "My high school has only 100 students."

New to Wisconsin

Discovery Genetics was an unfamiliar name to me so I asked.  “We moved from Minnesota a year ago and milk 30 cows,” Lisa Demmer said. “I’m a small animal veterinarian and my husband, Kevin Krejci, is an engineer who works in St. Paul. Our farm is at Ellsworth so we can arrange our work schedules to do the farming." 

Lisa Demmer and Kevin Krejci own Discovery Genetics at Ellsworth. Wisconsin and have been successful in the showering. with their Jerseys.

Kevin and Lisa actually first met at Dairy Expo a dozen years ago and love to show cattle and they have been very successful in the showering with their Jerseys.

Then there are the super show strings of MilkSource Genetics and Budjon that are expected to be top competitors with their outstanding show cattle.

Something for all

Truly there is something for everyone at World Dairy Expo but in spite of most of the pre-event publicity centering on the cattle show, most of the visitors are there to see the equipment, products and services on display—every one of them devoted to producing more milk cheaper and easier.

Things that can help an individual farmer remain in the farming business but a dilemma when the over-supply of milk is causing deep economic challenges for most farmers and the industry is considered.

Any answers? None that are easy and acceptable so far.  

John Oncken is owner of Oncken Communications. He can be reached at 608-572-0747, or email him