UW-Madison Dairy Science Students Win National Management Contest

Students from the University of Wisconsin-Madison Department of Dairy Science won top honors at the National North American Intercollegiate Dairy Challenge Contest, which was held April 7-9 in Syracuse, N.Y.

Four-person teams from 32 universities competed at the event. The team from UW-Madison included Elizabeth Endres, of Waunakee, Wis., Cody Getschel, of Osceola, Wis., Megan Opperman, of Rockford, Ill., and Olivia Peter, of Lake Mills, Wis. They were coached by Ted Halbach, faculty associate in dairy management, and David Combs, professor of dairy nutrition and management.

“The members of this team put themselves in a position for success with their preparation and willingness to accept coaching leading up to the competition,” says Halbach. “As the students’ presentation went on, it was clear they had nailed it. I know I can speak for David as well, what a privilege it is to work closely with students that have passion and a desire to learn like these four. We couldn’t be prouder of their performance.”

Dairy Challenge is an applied dairy management competition that involves students analyzing a commercial farm and presenting their observations and management recommendations to a panel of industry professionals. Judges include dairy producers, veterinarians, farm finance specialists and agribusiness personnel.

The team made recommendations to a 770-cow dairy farm in New York to help lower their rate of pneumonia and scours, relieve overcrowding, and increase pregnancy rates. Seeing how different farms operate is the best part of the competition for some team members.

“I was able to find opportunities to help this farm improve, when on the surface it looked very good,” Peter says. “I also really enjoy solving the problems of the farm to help the farmer better take care of their cows while maximizing profit. The real world practice we got leading up to the competition was invaluable.”

For students like Getschel, the competition was an affirmation that he’s found a career he enjoys.

“This competition made clear to me that I would like to pursue a career in reproductive consulting,” he explains. “It has given me confidence in my skills to critically analyze records and relate them to what I see on the farm. In addition, it has afforded me numerous opportunities to interact with industry professionals, making connections that I can refer to in the future.”

Elizabeth Endres says that coursework in dairy science, such as dairy herd management and reproductive management, provided the team with knowledge about various industry benchmarks, management strategies, and potential solutions. Most of the team also competed in the Badger Dairy Challenge, as well as the Midwest Regional Dairy Challenge competition, where they also performed well.

“I feel that I am prepared with the proper knowledge and tools to walk onto any dairy and I would be able to evaluate it and provide recommendations in a thoughtful, professional manner,” Endres says. “We have one of the best dairy science departments in the country with some of the most cutting-edge research and world-renowned faculty, so there is no excuse for UW-Madison to not be a front-runner in the Dairy Challenge contest every year.”

In addition to UW-Madison, first place team awards went to California Polytechnic State University, Cornell University and the University of Wisconsin-River Falls. Each member of the winning teams received $200 scholarships.

“We are very proud of our Intercollegiate Dairy Challenge team for their fine performance in New York,” says Kent Weigel, chair of the Department of Dairy Science. “On behalf of the department, I would like to thank the event sponsors and planning committee for providing such an excellent, hands-on learning experience for our students.”