Penn State Team Excels at North American Intercollegiate Dairy Challenge

Posted: April 9, 2014

Penn State's Dairy Challenge team representing the Department of Animal Science earned a first place award at the contest held in Fort Wayne, IN.
The Penn State Dairy Challenge team, from left, front row: Jennifer Royer and Kristin Bigelow; back row, from left: Coach Dr. Gabriela Varga, Colton Hoffman and Ariel Taxdal.

The Penn State Dairy Challenge team, from left, front row: Jennifer Royer and Kristin Bigelow; back row, from left: Coach Dr. Gabriela Varga, Colton Hoffman and Ariel Taxdal.

Penn State's Dairy Challenge team earned a first place award at the Thirteenth Annual North American Intercollegiate Dairy Challenge (NAIDC) held April 3-5 in Fort Wayne, IN.  The event was hosted by Purdue University, Michigan State University and the Ohio State University. A total of 264 students from 37 colleges across the U.S. and Canada participated, making it the largest gathering of college students pursuing a dairy career.

Team members representing the Department of Animal Science included Ariel E. Rasmussen-Taxdal, Bel Air, MD; Colton B. Hoffman, Shinglehouse, PA; Jennifer L. Royer, Elizabethtown, PA; and Kristin Bigelow, Williamsburg, PA. They evaluated Perkins Twin Creek Farms, Inc., Wolcottville, IN, placing first among the eight teams which evaluated the same operating dairy. Gabriella Varga, Ph.D., Emeritus University Distinguished Professor of Animal Science, accompanied the team which also was coached by Lisa Holden, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Dairy Science. Each first place student received a $200 scholarship.

Dairy Challenge is an innovative two-day academic competition for students representing dairy science programs at North American universities. It enables students to apply theory and learning to a real-world dairy, while working as part of a four-person team.  The competition incorporates all facets of a working dairy business in a forum that's interactive, educational and fun.

Dr. Terry Etherton, Head of the Department of Animal Science, said, "I congratulate the students for their first place award in this extremely competitive contest. Their success in analyzing a dairy farm and successfully articulating their evaluation is a tribute not only to their hard work but also to the preparation they received through their coaches and their courses. The practical experience offered through the contest will be invaluable as the students prepare for a career in the industry."

Dr. Varga said, "The students represented Penn State with professionalism, an upbeat attitude, and an excellent team effort. We are proud of their outstanding success."

In the contest, each four-person team received information about a working dairy farm, including production and farm management data. The teams then evaluated the dairy through observation and interviews with the herd owner and/or manager, working together to analyze the farm-specific data and develop management recommendations for nutrition, reproduction, milking procedures, animal health, housing and financial management.

The event culminated with team members presenting recommendations and then fielding questions from a panel of judges. These official judges included dairy producers and industry experts in dairy finances, reproduction, nutrition and animal health. Presentations were evaluated for accuracy of analysis and recommendations, with awards presented at a final banquet.

Seven Penn State students participated in the Dairy Challenge Academy, developed in 2013 to expand this educational and networking event to more college students. Academy student-participants also analyzed and developed recommendations for operating dairies; however, the Academy was organized in mixed-university team format with two Advisors to help coach these younger students.  Participants were Travis Byers, Shippensburg; Gearet FitzPatrick, Kensington, MD; Brandon Grumbine, Bethel, PA; Chad Horst, Newmanstown, PA; Donald Rice, Kempton, PA; Evan Snyder, Pitman, PA; and Evan H. Yoder, Huntingdon, PA.

The North American Intercollegiate Dairy Challenge was established as a management contest to incorporate all phases of a specific dairy business. It strives to incorporate a higher-learning atmosphere with practical application to help prepare students for careers in the dairy industry. Supported financially through generous donations by agribusinesses and coordinated by a volunteer board of directors, the first NAIDC was held in April 2002. In its 13-year history, Dairy Challenge has helped train over 4500 students through the national contest, Dairy Challenge Academy and four regional contests conducted annually.  

Penn State's team was supported, in part, by a Dairy Challenge endowment established by Department of Animal Science alumnus Clifton Marshall and by contributions from the College of Agricultural Sciences, the Center for Dairy Excellence and the Pennsylvania Dairymen's Association.

During the event, students visited with NAIDC sponsors for educational and recruitment opportunities. Sponsors include companies, organizations and dairy producers who are committed to cultivating tomorrow's dairy leaders. Their support encourages enhanced training and motivation of dairy students to be better prepared for the dairy industry's future, while allowing dairy science and business management academic programs to measure themselves against North America's best. Industry professionals presented cutting-edge research, new programs and career opportunities to students.

The mission of the North American Intercollegiate Dairy Challenge is to facilitate education, communication and an exchange of ideas among students, agribusiness, dairy producers and universities that enhances the development of the dairy industry and its leaders.

For more information about participating teams and their placement at NAIDC or to become a sponsor of the program, visit or