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Real Herd Management Skills with the Dairy Challenge

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Today's dairy science students are the industry experts of tomorrow. With a growing demand for dairy production, it has become more important than ever that those entering the workforce have the skills and hands-on experience with advanced technology to address the changing needs of the dairyman.

The North American Intercollegiate Dairy Challenge recognizes that in order for dairymen and dairy consultants to be successful, they must be able to quickly identify problems and remedy them to optimize operations. Through intensive real-world experience, students are provided an opportunity to apply the skills and knowledge they have gained through their degree programs.

We at Amelicor take great pride in helping to broaden the education of students involved in the Dairy Challenge. As one of their Platinum Sponsors, we're able to offer not only monetary support of this innovative program but also provide hands-on experience with our software for dairy management beyond the classroom.

Why the Dairy Challenge?

What started as a small, seven-school competition in 2002, the North American Intercollegiate Dairy Challenge (NAIDC) has grown into a major player in the dairy education arena. 32 U.S. schools and 3 Canadian colleges participate, with sponsors including Zoetis, Amelicor, Purina and Ag Farm Credit contributing to its growth and success.

Nic Buttars of Zoetis Animal Health was a participant of the Dairy Challenge in its early years. He found the organization to be a stepping stone into the career he was working towards. "For me, the Dairy Challenge was an opportunity to work on my skills and learn more that senior year of college so I could be ready to work in the industry in a position with a pharmaceutical company or feed company. Those were the avenues that I looked at."

The two-day event offers students the opportunity to analyze data from an undisclosed dairy operation and determine the best course of action for that facility. Herd records, feed data, financials -- all of this and more is provided to the teams for the competition. An onsite visit provides the final piece of the puzzle. A panel of judges then determines which team has most accurately identified the strengths and weaknesses of a dairy operation and made the most prudent and applicable recommendations.

A Key Player

Amelicor's involvement with the NAIDC continues to develop through its participation in the regional and national contests over the last 14 years. Cathy Myers, a Sales and Customer Support Rep for Amelicor, has played an integral part in the implementation of DHI-Plus in many university dairy science programs. She often helps teach classes on DHI-Plus to help the students and coaches prepare for the Dairy Challenge.

Cathy now sits on the board of NAIDC. Her close involvement -- from analyzing herd data into DHI-Plus to providing support and organization of the Western Regional and National events -- has allowed her to become an integral part of the Dairy Challenge's success.

Herd Management Software in Education

Around 42,000 licensed dairies operate in the United States. An additional 10,600 are active in Canada. This means that over 50,000 dairies are currently producing food for the North American and export food supply chain.

As the demand for dairy products continues to grow, so too do the demands being placed on producers. Feed efficiency, vaccination programs, breeding intervals -- all of this and more must be carefully tracked and managed to ensure optimum production year-round.

The Dairy Challenge recognizes the need for individuals exiting dairy science programs to have experience in the implementation and use of herd management software. Students are taught to use these tools, thus entering the workforce with hands-on experience not only in the dairy setting but also behind the scenes where every cent counts.

The Dairy Challenge will continue to grow as more and more students realize the importance of hands-on experience. Amelicor will be right there will them, every step of the way.

This post is part 1 of a 3-part series on the Dairy Challenge. The 14th Annual Western Dairy Challenge was held in Ogden, Utah, Feb. 21-23, with 52 students from seven universities that made up 12 teams.