Four Animal Science students placed second in their division at the Dairy Challenge, held virtually in April

Students who were on the Dairy Challenge team which competed virtually:  from left: Shara Allman, Kelly Forbes, Sydney Jewel, George DeMers

Students who were on the Dairy Challenge team which competed virtually: from left: Shara Allman, Kelly Forbes, Sydney Jewel, George DeMers

Four students from Penn State’s Department of Animal Science placed second in their division at the North American Dairy Challenge, held virtually because of the pandemic. The Dairy Challenge is one of the premier learning and networking experiences for tomorrow’s dairy leaders. It was hosted April 14-16, by the North American Intercollegiate Dairy Challenge Board with twenty-one teams from 30 colleges competing virtually on five different judging panels.

Students who participated were: George DeMers, York, PA; Kelly Forbes, Pittsburgh, PA; Shara Allman, Lancaster, PA; Sydney Jewell, Spenser, NY; The team was coached by:  Rob Goodling, extension associate, dairy; Lisa Holden, associate professor of dairy science; and Virginia Ishler, extension specialist.

Three Penn State students also participated in the Dairy Academy which included exercises in team building, a virtual farm tour and the opportunity to analyze the dairy. Participants were: Adam Cole, Rome, PA; Hannah Diehl, McVeytown, PA; and Donald Opp, Washington, PA.

To prepare, the Penn State students evaluated central Pennsylvania farms, using farm data, photos and videos. Due to restrictions from COVID-19 only one in-person socially distanced farm visit was possible for the students.  

Lisa Holden, Ph.D., one of the team’s coaches, said, “The virtual format definitely provided challenges for this interactive event. We are deeply grateful to Kish-View Farms, Belleview, and Reinford Farms, Inc., Mifflintown who were instrumental in allowing the students to evaluate their farms this semester.” All content for the contest was delivered online, including complete production and farm management data to help the teams evaluate and analyze individual dairy farms and prepare a comprehensive plan to present to the judges.

Dr. Adele M. Turzillo, Head of the Department of Animal Science, said, “Congratulations to the students for their outstanding achievement in this comprehensive, interactive event. I greatly enjoyed the opportunity to accompany students on one of their farm visits and was impressed with their knowledge of real-world dairy farming. Their achievements clearly reflect the dedication of our faculty members who prepared them for the Challenge. We truly appreciate the cooperation of the dairy producers who welcomed our students to their farms and provided management information for them to evaluate.”

Kish-View Farms is owned and operated by Keith and Kent Spicher, whose grandfather started the farm in 1947. They have grown the herd from 120 cows when they took over in the late 1900s to over 550 cows today.

Reinford Farms crop about 1,200 acres of land, growing and harvesting much of what they need to feed their herd of roughly 720 cows. It is operated by Steve and Gina Reinford with their three sons, Chad, Drew and Brett.

The North American Dairy Challenge event began with learning webinars where industry representatives helped students better understand dairy conditions and shared details about reproduction, cow comfort, data management, nutrition, transition diseases, and calf raising.

The contest and academy participants received in-depth management data from Wall-Stone Holsteins, DeSoto, WI. The next day, all students virtually visited the dairy to witness dairy operations. After a question-answer session with the farm owners, the student teams developed recommendations for nutrition, reproduction, milking procedures, animal health, cow comfort, and labor, and financial management. The last day students presented their recommendations to the judging panel consisting of dairy producers, veterinarians, finance specialists and seasoned agribusiness personnel.

Students also visited with sponsors at a career fair, and attended an educational seminar presented by Professional Dairy Producers of Wisconsin.

Wall-Stone Holsteins has 400 dairy cows and 150 head of beef cattle and farms 1,600 acres. It is owned by Kevin Walleser and Anne Marie Elwing, with son William Walleser.

Dairy Challenge is supported by financial contributions from industry, and a key part of the event is the opportunity for students, future industry leaders, to meet and network with industry professionals. This opportunity continued, virtually, with three-days of interactive events.

Funding for Penn State’s participation in the event came from an endowment established by alumnus Clifton Marshall.

NAIDC’s mission is to develop tomorrow’s dairy leaders and enhance progress of the dairy industry, by providing education, communication and networking among students, producers, and agribusiness and university personnel.  Over its 20-year national history, Dairy Challenge has helped prepare more than 7,000 students for careers as farm owners and managers, consultants, researchers, veterinarians or other dairy professionals. The Dairy Academy is in its ninth year.