The 11th annual Great Lakes Regional Dairy Conference took place in Frankenmuth, Michigan, on February 7-9, 2013. The conference had one of the best attendance numbers, with more than 400 attendees during the Thursday and Friday producer meetings. The conference featured talks from many industry experts, with topics ranging from calf management to milk quality to social media and consumer perception. With this broad range of topics, there was something for everyone at the conference.

Messing-Kennedy is a dairy producer located in Michigan.

Thursday highlights included Dr. Dale Bauman from Cornell University . Bauman talked about how sustainability and technology in agriculture go hand in hand.

In today’s world, a sustainable industry must balance the benefit of dairy farming economically, the most efficient use of environmental resources and the ability to socially demonstrate the safety and health of the product being produced.


Bauman pushed the audience to be proactive and play an active role in sharing how the U.S. dairy industry plays a sustainable role in the world and an important part in the diet.

Dr. Mike Hutjens from University of Illinois Extension and Greg Zuver from Caledonia Farmers Elevator talked about how feeding cows in 2013 has changed and where it will go in the future. Hutjens stressed the importance of 10 focus areas.


These areas touch on cost of production, making good financial decisions for the farm, evaluating how cows are responding, the economics of grouping and evaluating feedstuffs constantly.

Hutjens said cows are always “talking to us” and producers should make sure to listen to which areas will give them the most bang for their buck.

Dr. Tom Earleywine, director of nutritional services at Land O’Lakes , talked about the latest developments in calf nutrition.

Earleywine stressed the importance of doing what is right for the calf. He showed attendees that by treating a calf like it needs to be treated, there will be productivity increases in milk production.

Following up Earleywine was Dr. Donald Sockett from the Wisconsin Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory . Sockett focused on calf diseases and health management. He said calf scours still affect 20 to 25 percent of U.S. dairy calves, and one of the main reasons is because cleaning and disinfection on farms is still lacking.

To round out the educational speakers on Thursday, there was a producer panel on calf care and health. The facilitators were Earleywine and Sockett. The producers featured were Nathan Elzinga from Daybreak Dairy in Zeeland, Michigan, and Dr. Lou Neuder, DVM, from Green Meadow Farms in Elsie, Michigan.

Elzinga has 230 milking cows, and they raise their wet calves on an automatic calf feeder. The farm has a rolling herd average of 31,383 pounds of milk and is managed by Nathan Elzinga.

At Green Meadow Farms, there are approximately 800 wet calves on the farm at one time. The farm raises all of their own heifers through to calving.

The Friday line-up continued the theme of helping producers do more with less. It started with Dr. Tom Overton, associate professor from Cornell University , talking about transition cow nutrition.

He talked about research done regarding different diets in transition cows and research still going on that could help understand transition cows better.

Dr. Roger Thomson, DVM, of Team Management Concepts , started the next segment on milk quality. Thomson discussed how to reduce clinical mastitis cases on farms. He said the best way to reduce clinical cases is to reduce the cow’s exposure to bacteria.

Thomson’s talk was followed by a producer panel that was facilitated by him and Dr. Ron Erkine, DVM, from the College of Veterinary Medicine at Michigan State University . The first member of the producer panel was Dave Schroder from Cary Dairy in Battle Creek, Michigan. Cary Dairy is a 795-cow farm that averages a 95,000 somatic cell count.


Steven Vander Hoff was the second panelist from Bebow Dairy in St. Louis, Michigan.

The farm milks 1,100 cows and has had an 80,000 somatic cell count in their last three-month average. The third panelist was Tom Oesch from Swisslane Dairy in Alto, Michigan.

Swisslane Dairy milks 2,000 cows and has a parlor farm and a 500-cow robot facility. The panel discussed employee training, incentives and mastitis management, among other topics.

Gary Sipiorski, dairy development manager with Vita Plus Corporation , rounded out the morning speakers. Gary talked about dairying in the 2013 economy. He touched on how the world economy affects the dairy industry and how these changes affect farmers every single day.

After lunch, attendees had their choice of several breakout sessions, which included:

• Business Planning for Your Dairy Succession with Dennis Stein, Michigan State University extension

• Connect with Consumers from your Couch: Social Media 101 with Hillstrom PR

• Dairying in 2013 Question and Answer Follow-up with Gary Sipiorski

• A Robotic Comparison panel discussion with four different producers

Rounding out the day was a session on shooting on-farm videos and how to tell agriculture’s story through video. This talk was given by Jane Hillstrom and Samantha Baudhuinn with Hillstrom PR.

From beginning to end, the 2013 Great Lakes Regional Dairy Conference was packed with quality speakers and timely topics to help a producer of any size or philosophy do more with what he or she has. PD

Ashley Messing Kennedy is a dairy farmer in Bad Axe, Michigan.

TOP RIGHT: Ben Schaendorf of Schaendorf Dairy talks to the group about his farm setup on the robotic comparison producer panel.

MIDDLE RIGHT: Dale Bauman shares with attendees how much milk production has increased since 1944.

BOTTOM RIGHT: Tom Oesch of Swisslane Dairy discusses techniques they use for controlling mastitis during the milk quality producer panel. Photos courtesy of Ashley Messing Kennedy.


Ashley Messing Kennedy
Dairy farmer
Bad Axe, MI