What do you get when two passionate dairy professionals decide that college students deserve a broader view of the dairy industry, an opportunity to connect the dots from farm to factory and to begin building their professional network all while keeping animal welfare and a healthy planet top of mind? Dairypalooza! Thanks to the support of Chico State and generous donations from Cargill, Danone North America, Organic West, Valley Milk and Kinder Ground, animal science students from Chico State were given the opportunity to spend the week with backstage passes to five processors and four farms across California.

Walker jennifer
Co-Founder, Chief Animal Welfare Officer / Kinder Ground

Dairypalooza! is a one-of-a-kind, week-long immersive learning experience designed for students with an expressed interest in agriculture. The mission is simple but profound – to inspire the next generation of dairy professionals by opening doors to exciting career possibilities that stretch far beyond the dairy farm gate. Along the way, the importance of animal welfare in producing quality products and the sustainability of the dairy industry is the common thread woven into discussions and healthy debate.

The week kicked off at Producers Dairy in Fairfield, California. Here, students learned what it takes to get milk from the cow to the carton and the importance of animal welfare to milk quality and product performance. From the Pasteurized Milk Ordinance (PMO) to state-specific requirements, the students began to appreciate the multitude of steps required to ensure that milk offered for sale is safe and sought after. The concept of “consumer experience,” how it is impacted by raw milk quality and consumer perception of animal care was planted firmly in students' minds.

From Fairfield, the group headed to Petaluma to visit Bianchi Dairy. Milking almost 600 cows, this might be considered “large” for an organic dairy herd. Here, I can honestly say I think we saw minds exploding! The majority of the students previously only ever had the opportunity to experience the college dairy facility, a seasonal organic operation milking fewer than 100 cows.


On day one of Dairypalooza! students visited Bianchi Dairy in Petaluma, California. Photo provided by Jennifer Walker.

Day two took us to Straus Creamery, also in Petaluma. From bottled milk to bottle-fed calves and pasture-based systems, students began connecting the dots from cow to carton. They were even given the opportunity to taste test and provide feedback on a new product line of kefir. Here students thought it was “amazing to see a plant with ice cream, fluid milk, yogurt and butter, all running at the same time with both glass bottles and plastic milk cartons.”


On the farm, students had a chance to hear from Louis Silva. Silva shared his motivation for, and the challenges of, moving from a conventional dairy system to organic. Students learned that labor and feed costs are challenges for farms of all shapes and sizes. Animal welfare, however, began to emerge as surprising and nuanced conversations. Students saw opportunities and challenges unique to each system and overwhelmingly expressed a preference for organic. The cows were given hundreds of acres to graze, allowing them to spend most of their lives off concrete and to enjoy the opportunity to lounge as they see fit.

Since it was a long drive to our next stop in Hilmar, as a chaperone, I was able to pose questions to the students. “What about not-so-sunny or way-too-sunny California? In just about any geography it can be hot, cold, seasonably wet and windy. Do you think the cows would appreciate the freedom to access shelter as they wish?” This left plenty of time for healthy debate and discussion specific to the science that tells us cows value both the opportunity to lay down comfortably and to avoid heat stress and seek shade.


Bianchi Dairy is a seasonal organic dairy that milks almost 600 cows. Photo provided by Jennifer Walker.

Day three brought us to Hilmar Cheese Company. Over 100 loads of milk a day pull through their gates to be manufactured into cheese and whey protein for customers in over 50 countries worldwide. As such, students began to see a recurring theme that was captured in our post-palooza survey – there are many career opportunities in the dairy industry that they never knew existed, and they are now looking forward to putting themselves on a path toward one of those careers.

Next, students had a chance to meet a few of the ladies behind the curds and whey. They were invited in for an up-close and personal visit to Clauss Dairy, which has grown from a 20-cow Jersey herd in 1954 to a family of farms milking over 3,000 cows. The Clauss farm team has focused on genetics for both dairy and beef and was an early adopter of a Wagyu-Jersey cross. Technology began to enter the conversation more and more, from sexed semen to feed-pushing robots and a mobile hoof trimming chute. Here students also began to appreciate how dairy owners and managers juggle a lot of responsibility managing people as well as cows and must build a team including their nutritionist and herd veterinarian to ensure the health of the cows and the business.

On day four, the group was welcomed by Valley Milk, a dairy processor that has embraced technology in their commitment to delivering quality milk from farm to table. Valley Milk, a partnership across five dairy families, nutritionists and veterinarians, began commercial production in 2018. Supplied by 16 farms, they have a product lineup including cream, non-fat dry milk (NFDM) and low thermophilic spore powder. From the receiving bay to raw milk testing to powder and pallets, the place looked like something out of NASA or a space shuttle.

In Chowchilla, California, Greg Hooker and his son Travis welcomed the group to Diamond H Dairy, which milks 5,500 cows through a double-34 herringbone, a double-45 parallel and 13 recently installed automated milking systems. It was a unique opportunity to talk to a farmer who shared his experiences with all types of milking systems, including the advantages of using an automated milking system and what it takes to ensure top-quality milk when robots are in place. Diamond H is also a diversified farming operation that harvests almonds and sunlight in addition to milk. Greg Hooker gave the rare perspective of both farmer and processor and provided the opportunity to chat about milk quality, animal welfare, milk prices and the impact of Proposition 12 in California and beyond.


On day five students visited with the Fresno Cargill animal welfare team and toured a meat plant. Photo provided by Jennifer Walker.

The final day of Dairypalooza! was spent with the Cargill animal welfare team in Fresno touring a meat plant. Cargill has a team dedicated to making sure the cattle are treated with kindness and compassion on their last day. Discussion was offered by the Cargill team about the welfare of animals in production systems, and students learned that as an industry, we can and need to do better when it comes to culling cows. Students finished their Dairypalooza! week with the clear understanding that maintaining permission to benefit from animals means doing our best to provide good care from the first day to the last, from the farm to the market and every stage in between.

What’s next for Dairypalooza!? Students provided rich feedback that we will use to plan and organize the next adventure. Future plans include expanding the opportunity to other colleges and universities, creating a competitive application process, and providing “pre-palooza” orientation and coursework to provide broader context and knowledge of animal welfare considerations across the dairy industry. Taking some advice from our students, we will apply lessons learned and work to improve the offering for future generations of dairy professionals.