In February, I participated in the 2017 Midwest Regional Dairy Challenge contest in Madison, Wisconsin. Contrary to popular belief, it is not a contest where one sits at a table and chugs a gallon of milk faster than the next person without throwing up. Although something of the sort would have been epic, I am thankful I was not asked to do so.

Schmitz audrey
Editor / Progressive Dairy

Instead, Dairy Challenge is an event that brings college students studying for a career in the dairy industry together to apply their knowledge and offer solutions to a real-world dairy operation. Working as part of a team, students take on the role of dairy consultants to analyze the farm and make recommendations for improvements.

For the Midwest contest, I was placed on a team with three other students and two adult advisors who, coincidentally, were all from Wisconsin. It was in that moment that it hit me – I wasn’t in Kansas anymore. In all honesty, it made me want to click my ruby red slippers three times to transport myself back home.

However, I wasn’t about to back down from a challenge, especially a dairy challenge. A packet of information containing a description of “Farm 3” was passed around our table along with a herd summary, diet formulations, forage analyses, financial records and treatment protocols. The plethora of records given to us was almost overwhelming.

Because none of us had ever actually set foot on Farm 3 or had much experience analyzing records, looking over the information was much like stumbling around a dark room and tripping over furniture. But trust me, after four grueling hours of scrutinizing the records, we had them well deciphered. By the end of the night, we had identified some areas of concern and formed a few questions to ask the producer.


Early the next morning, we embarked on our journey to Farm 3. After the producer introduced himself, we were set loose to inspect the farm in our respective groups. We counted stalls and cows; measured freestalls, bunks and pens; observed milking procedures; and examined feeds and forages. There wasn’t a single square inch we didn’t cover or a single stone left unturned. All the while my poor little toes – not adjusted to the Wisconsin winter chill – inevitably froze. It wasn’t until we made it back to our hotel that they regained some warmth.

Upon our arrival back at the hotel, we were whisked away to an assigned room where we were allowed to interview the owner of Farm 3 and ask him specific questions about his operation. Kudos to the farmer for answering all of our prying questions, for he must have felt like a bug under a microscope. Regardless he answered each and every question without missing a beat.

Dairy Challenge team portrait

Once we had all the information we could gather through herd records, on-farm observations and the producer interview, we transitioned to forming our recommendations and preparing our final presentation. Holed up in our hotel room, my team created a PowerPoint in Google Drive so we each could work on our own slides and collaborate as a group.

Little by little, piece by piece, our masterpiece was completed in four hours. What a relief it was to finally turn in our PowerPoint. From there on we were sticking to our guns and going with what was on our slides.

Handing over our PowerPoint was a turning point. It was all downhill from there. We ran through our slides once in the prep room the next day before we strolled down the hall to present.

Before a panel of six judges, we outlined our observations and recommendations. We presented ways the farmer could become more successful and profitable by implementing small changes. Many questions were asked and we fielded each one with ease.

I like to think the judges just liked Bradley’s green paisley tie and the rest is history. But whatever the case, our presentation earned us first place on Farm 3.

Overall the Midwest Dairy Challenge competition was interactive, educational, exciting and inspiring for all the students there. I want to express our deep appreciation and say thank you to all the sponsors and dairy industry leaders who make this opportunity possible. You have enhanced our education and better prepared us to serve the dairy industry in the future. We will be forever grateful and can’t wait to become tomorrow’s dairy leaders.  end mark

Editor’s note: The 2017 Midwest Regional Dairy Challenge was held Feb. 8-10.

Audrey Schmitz
  • Audrey Schmitz

  • Freelance Writer
  • Manhattan, Kansas

PHOTO 1: Audrey Schmitz and her team pause to take a group photo while calculating the stocking density in pens on Farm 3. Pictured: Audrey Schmitz, Amber Yager, John Maurer and Bradley Griswold.

PHOTO 2: The 2017 Midwest Regional Dairy Challenge first place team for Farm 3. Pictured: Bradley Griswold, John Maurer, Audrey Schmitz and Amber Yager. Photos provided by Audrey Schmitz.