Right before the end of the year, I made a visit to Kinnard Farms in Casco, Wisconsin, and met with director of dairy operations Shaun Hardtke to talk about one small change that made a significant difference on the 7,000-cow dairy.
Coffeen peggy
Coffeen is a former editor and podcast host with Progressive Dairy. 

You may read the full story Hourly feed pushups yield more milk, fewer problems at Kinnard Farms, but the Cliff’s Notes version is this: Increasing the frequency of feed pushups to once each hour resulted in an additional 4 pounds of milk per cow, basically overnight. Despite other tactics he had tried to grab onto that extra production, the secret to reaching the next level came down to more intentional, constant and consistent focus on putting feed within the cows’ reach.

The key to unlocking the cows’ potential came down to an extra “push.”

As I left the farm that day, the thought struck me of just how powerful an additional push can be. Not just in the physical sense of pushing up feed but also in the sense of empowering others to reach their own full potential. That’s when 17 young, smiling faces popped into my head of the enthusiastic, cow-loving youth I lead as our county’s dairy quiz bowl coach and Junior Holstein adviser.

It occurred to me how this “herd” of kids had something in common with Kinnard’s herd of cows: They are hungry. Though it’s easy to think we’ve done our part by putting “feed” in front of them, if we keep pushing, we find out they actually have an appetite for more.


Each week, I “feed” information to my quiz bowl kids, and sometimes I assume they must be full – maxed out on dairy facts and statistics. They must be tired of hearing me read the same questions over and over … “What do you call the first milk after calving?” … “What is the nation’s largest dairy cooperative?” … “Where is the streak canal located?” But that’s also the point when I realize they need me to keep pushing.

To challenge them to learn more and guide them as they grow. To raise the bar on their comprehension of dairy knowledge. To prepare them, not just for a contest but for a future in the dairy industry. These incredible kids will go on to be dairy owners, managers and leaders in the industry. And some of them need an extra push to realize their own potential to learn more, do more and be more.

It’s my job to motivate my teams and get them coming back to the bunk because each time they do, they take in another mouthful of valuable information on which to ruminate. But that can be easier said than done. Sometimes when we try to push, there’s a push back. Shaun felt that when accommodating those additional feed pushes on the dairy. It required changes to schedules and role reassignments, but he stayed the course and, in the end, all those involved saw the value.

When I feel pushback as a coach, discouragement comes to me easily. I start to question if my efforts are even worthwhile. But one thing I’ve learned, particularly when it comes to dealing with adolescents and teenagers, is that under those gripes and moans is a simple desire for reassurance and positive encouragement. While it may seem easier in the moment to lay off or back down, I have to look past my own temporary discomfort and hold tight to a vision for building stronger character in a young person that they might even come to appreciate later on.

I know this to be true not only because I see it happening with the young people I coach, but also because I was once one myself. And I was fortunate enough to have an amazing dairy quiz bowl coach and leader with the patience of a saint and a heart of gold. Her gentle pushes nurtured more than just dairy knowledge; they built confidence in a teenage girl who struggled to feel good enough. They introduced me to a community of like-minded peers where I finally felt like I fit in. And her pushes propelled me on a path that, 15 years later, is now my career.

So take a moment and think about it. Who pushed you in a positive direction? More importantly, is there a young person in your life who is just waiting for someone to push them right now? Be the one to “feed” them with opportunities, encouraging words or a listening ear.

When it comes to reaching full potential – whether in a pen of lactating cows or among the next generation of dairy leaders – it may just be an extra push or two that makes all the difference.  end mark

Peggy Coffeen