Donning red shirts from Progressive Dairyman and showing their passion for dairy, 52 students from 24 universities, 20 states and five countries gathered at Curry County Fairgrounds for the evening meal and to hear from their “genetics week” instructor on how their morning linear appraisal of 10 heifers compared to the genomic testing done previously by Zoetis at Doug and Irene Handley’s Do-Rene Dairy, Clovis, New Mexico.

The U.S. Dairy Education and Training Consortium (USDETC) is in full swing. Operating from Clovis Community College, the six-week intensive large herd dairy management course is divided into six units with experts coming from across the country in respective disciplines.

During the last week of May, the students studied genetics with Chad Dechow of Penn State. He’s been doing genetics week here for six years. Earlier, the students focused on animal health, with session one looking at the individual cow – how to feed, breed and treat – and session two extracting data to look at the herd dynamics of animal health.

USDETC students receive hands-on training

“You don’t find this in a book,” says Mike Tomaszewski, West Texas A&M professor emeritus. The students go to dairies in the morning and come back to the classroom in the afternoon, where they dissect what they’ve seen and done, divide into groups, solve problems, set up operating procedures, design housing, sorting and feeding protocols and debate with each other – learning how to take and defend a position.

“Right here [West Texas and eastern New Mexico], we have all housing types. They see cross-ventilation, Saudi style, drylot and freestall,” Tomaszewski explains. “And they bring their own experiences to what they see.”

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On this day, the groups split up between genetics at Do-Rene and youngstock management at Caprock Dairy, Amherst, Texas.

That evening back in Clovis, Dechow compared the results from the field and the previous genomic testing and said he was “pleasantly surprised” by how the two evaluations meshed. His goal for the week was for students to understand the numbers, where they come from, what they mean and how to use them.

One-third of the students indicated future goals in dairy herd management, while the others ranged from veterinary medicine and research to nutrition work, consulting and ag education.

What surprised many of the students was the weather. “We thought we were coming to the desert, but they grow a lot of feed for the cows here,” said one student.

Others noted their surprise that the parlors are simple with no automatic takeoffs, and it amazed some to see 1,000 calf hutches lined up in rows. They also noted the benefits of networking with dairy experts, companies, producers and peers.

USDETC genetics class

“They are expanding their knowledge and perspective,” explains Robert Hagevoort, extension dairy specialist with New Mexico State University. “To have the visual hands-on and follow it up with the science – all at the same time – presents a whole new learning concept. Pictures and videos don’t do it; you have to come out and see. You have to get your hands and boots dirty. The discussions these students have are multi-dimensional. They are seeing how things integrate.”

The USDETC started as an idea hatched by Tomaszewski after Texas A&M and other universities in the Southwest U.S. began losing their dairies. Hagevoort consults and other universities joined in for what is today a unique hands-on visual perspective on the science of large herd dairy management, which draws increased participation interest.

Students can earn credits, but how they are applied is up to each participating college. Students are tested weekly and have quizzes daily, so grades are given and relative rankings are available.

To learn more about the program and how companies can help sponsor it, visit the USDETC website. PD

Sherry Bunting is a freelance writer based in East Earl, Pennsylvania.

USDETC students Madison Crum and Lauren Schlothauer will be blogging about their experience on Progressive Dairyman’s Proud to Dairy network. Read Madison’s first blog, or read Lauren's first blog.

PHOTO 1: Fifty-two students from 24 universities, 20 states and five countries attended the U.S. Dairy Education and Training Consortium in Clovis, New Mexico.

PHOTO 2: Students received hands-on training at Do-Rene Dairy, Clovis, New Mexico, and Caprock Dairy, Amherst, Texas.

PHOTO 3: Penn State Professor Chad Dechow teaches USDETC students about genetics. Photos by Sherry Bunting.