FVTC hosts Midwest Dairy Challenge

February 10, 2014

From postcrescent.com: “FVTC hosts Midwest Dairy Challenge for college and technical school students” — NEW LONDON — The temperature hovered just below zero Thursday morning as two buses of students from colleges and technical schools in Kansas, Minnesota, Ohio and Wisconsin filed into a barn at Sugar Creek Farm.

They were there for the Midwest Dairy Challenge, a competition featuring teams of students who conduct a detailed analysis of farming operations, said Kevin Rauchholz, an instructor at Fox Valley Technical College.

Students walk through dairy farms, examining everything from cow comfort, feed quality and ventilation to milking parlor management. With their observations and the farm’s financial information, the teams put together a presentation on what the farm is doing well, and areas where it could improve.

FVTC hosted the challenge this year, ushering students to Sugar Creek Farm and Country Aire Acres in Greenleaf.

At Sugar Creek Farm — an operation with 1,200 cows — students walked through the foggy barns, picking up feed and sifting through it. They counted how many cows were in a given space, and measured how wide the lanes were for the cows to walk through.

Outside, they examined feed storage before moving inside to the milking parlor. Cows stood above the students in the parlor waiting to be milked. Walls of 20 automatic milking machines on the right and left made way for a lane in between, where two workers cleaned the cows’ udders and attached the milkers.

Students milled down the gangway, watching how the udders were prepped and timing how long it took a group of cows to finish milking.

Matthew Bull competed in the challenge four years ago. Now he works for Cargill, and returned to the contest this year as a volunteer.

Bull said the experience gives students an opportunity to apply what they’ve learned and make connections with potential employers.

“Here with the students today are a host of industry professionals representing different companies … so that exposure with the students is really beneficial for them as they enter their junior and senior years in college and some into the workforce later on this year,” Bull said.

John Schmidt, another Cargill representative, said the challenge showcases various career paths in agriculture, which helps students determine what they’re interested in.

In potential employees, Schmidt said he looks for students who are inquisitive, professional and confident.

“We want people who have confidence in what they know, but not so much that they’re afraid to ask questions if they don’t know something,” Schmidt said.

After two hours on the farm, students spent the rest of the day working on their projects. They presented them Friday.

No matter who won, the students walked away with appreciation for the event.

“Today was a great learning experience,” said Darcy Steffes, a student at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville. “It’s nice to go to different farms and get a look at what you can help them with so they can be more profitable in the future.”

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