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Dan Truttmann (foreground), owner of Truttman Dairy, answers questions from “Team Guernsey” — students Abigail Martin, Courtney McCourt, and Anthony Schmitz — during the 2015 Badger Dairy Challenge. Photo courtesy UW–Madison Department of Dairy Science

There’s no better place than America’s Dairyland for a dairy farm management competition that helps undergraduates learn firsthand about the industry.

The Badger Dairy Challenge, hosted by the Department of Dairy Science, brings teams of four or five students together to analyze real farm records, cow management data, and nutritional information. After a site visit, the teams then develop suggestions for improvement and present them to a panel of industry professionals. The challenge was last held in fall 2015 in partnership with the University of Minnesota and will make its return to campus later this year.

After seeing the benefits of the North American Intercollegiate Dairy Challenge for many years, faculty associate Ted Halbach established the Badger Dairy Challenge in 2012 to give a broader range of students an early opportunity to immerse themselves in the field.

“The idea is for beginning-level dairy science students to get involved,” Halbach says. “Students starting their education in dairy management have an opportunity to be mentored in the Badger Dairy Challenge, and it’s less about competition and more about experience and learning.”

Senior dairy science major Anthony Schmitz BSx’18 competed in his sophomore year and is hoping to gain a spot on the national team this year. “You have to work your way up and try out,” Schmitz says. “It’s competitive, actually, because a lot of students are interested in it, and it’s a good way to use the skills and the knowledge that we have learned in the classroom in a practical, real-life situation.”

While there are similar programs at schools across the country, as well as regional and national dairy challenges, Halbach believes that Wisconsin is best positioned to provide a positive impact on the careers of these students.

“Within a half-hour [drive from campus], we have multiple farms that we can call on that are different than [those that participated] a year ago,” Halbach says. “There aren’t many schools that have that resource, so we’re very fortunate for the willingness of those farms to participate.”

Halbach puts a lot of work into it, but it takes more than human resources to sustain the program. The challenge receives funding from a mix of dairy organizations and CALS alumni. For example, an annual golf outing raises between $25,000 and $30,000 each year for scholarships and high-impact learning opportunities.

“Our alums have either financially supported the program or they’re very willing to contribute their time to serve as officials or mentors for the students during the events, which is every bit as valuable,” Halbach says.

There are also incentives for people in the dairy industry to be involved in the competition. According to Schmitz, the program provides a convenient opportunity for employers to make connections with potential hires, and vice versa.

“It’s a great way to get your name out there because the contests are officiated by industry professionals, so it’s a really good way for you to make an impression on that kind of person,” Schmitz says. “Most of the students competing have already been locked in by somebody because they are sought-after talent.”

You can support the Badger Dairy Challenge with a gift to the Dairy Science Department Fund. (NOTE: Please add “support for Dairy Challenge” in the text field.) Or contact Development Director Jodi Wickham at jodi.wickham@supportuw.org or (608) 308-5315.