Filling the gap in dairy education

Written by Kevin Catalano

In its mission to groom the next generation of dairy owners and managers, a regional educational program based in Clovis,N.M., this year adopted a nationwide focus.

The U.S. Dairy Education & Training Consortium (USDETC) — formerly known as the Southern Great Plains Dairy Consortium — started in 2008 to fill a growing gap in the teaching of large-herd management and economics in Arizona, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas. This regional emphasis was prompted by the closing of university dairies and a decline in student enrollment at Texas A&M, New Mexico State University and the University of Arizona.

“With fewer schools teaching dairy science courses, we saw a glaring need in the southern Great Plains,” says Michael Tomaszewski, a USDETC coordinator and retired professor at A&M. “When I arrived at Texas A&M in 1975, for instance, on campus we had four dairy science faculty involved in teaching, research and extension. Now, we have nobody. This means kids with an interest in the dairy industry are limited in their educational choices at the college level.”

The six-week program launched in the summer of 2008 with 18 students on the campus of Clovis Community College in New Mexico. It is designed to provide capstone learning experiences for advanced college students in animal, dairy and ag-business curriculum in preparation for entry into the dairy industry or advanced degree programs, such as veterinary school.

“This area was chosen for its close proximity to dairies with all possible management levels, housing styles and parlor types that would serve to enhance the classroom instruction,” says Robert Hagevoort, USDETC coordinator and associate professor and extension dairy specialist at New Mexico State University.

From the beginning, the program coupled classroom teaching with practical, onthe- farm instruction. Nationally recognized faculty teach several hours on topics such as dairy benchmarking, nutrition, facilities and cow comfort, with the remainder of the day spent on a dairy actually applying the science and looking at management in action.

Dairy Farmers of America members John and Pauline DeVos of Plainview, Texas, are among the producers supporting USDETC by allowing students onto their farms for up-close learning.

“Dairy producers in our area are recognizing the need for continued education for the next generation of managers and owners,” Hagevoort says. “They allow us to come in and check their cows for pregnancies and they allow us to draw blood samples from their herds. They allow us to interrupt their milking process so we can teach these students. They will open up their financial statements in front of us.”

John and Pauline’s son, Jasper, participated during summer 2010, after graduating the previous year with degrees in agriculture and applied economics and general business from Texas Tech University.

Even through he grew up on a family dairy farm, DeVos saw great opportunity to further his education through USDETC.

“They brought in top-notch professors from all over the country, and I was really impressed with their knowledge about what it takes to operate a dairy farm,” DeVos says. “A lot of times we had classroom instruction during the morning and then we would go out to the dairy in the afternoon, where we would apply what we had just learned.

The program aided DeVos’ responsibilities on the family farm, where he helps in raising heifers, managing the parlor and purchasing feed.