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Two students place in dairy challenge

Meredith Woodward of Cedar Springs, and Emily Elmer, of Sparta, both placed

Ninety-nine Michigan State University students applied what they’ve learned during the 14th annual MSU Dairy Challenge November 20 and December 4, with two area students placing among the top students in their divisions.

The comprehensive two-day project assigned students to teams to evaluate a working dairy farm and develop recommendations for improvement, which are then presented to a panel of judges that included the dairy’s owners.

Hillhaven Farms, Inc., of Edmore, a fourth-generation family dairy farm owned by Mike and Sonja Rasmussen, hosted the farm evaluation portion of this year’s competition, on November 20. Team presentations and an awards banquet took place December 4 at MSU.

On the first day of the challenge, contestants go on-site to the dairy farm to meet and talk with t he owners, review farm records, and observe farm operations, including feeding and nutrition, animal health, milking procedures and reproduction. Teams then develop a series of written recommendations for the farm owners to implement to improve efficiency, productivity, and profitability. The following week, each team presents its findings orally to a panel of judges, which includes the farm’s owners, the herd veterinarian, industry representatives and MSU faculty members. Final scores are tallied based on points received from the oral presentation and responses to judges’ questions.

Students competed on four or five member teams in one of three divisions: novice, advanced and AgTech. Top placing team members in each division received a monetary prize.

Emily Elmer, an animal science sophomore from Sparta, was a member of the third place team in the novice division and received $10. Novice division consisted of MSU students with no prior experience in the Dairy Challenge and little experience in dairy-related courses.

Meredith Woodward, an animal science senior from Cedar Springs, was a member of the team that placed second in the advanced division and received $20. Those competing in that division had taken an Advanced Dairy Cattle course, and may have had previous experience in the Dairy Challenge.

“Students enjoy the chance to apply what they’re learning in class, and come back again later in their undergraduate careers, including as production animal scholars in veterinary school,” said Dr. Miriam Weber Nielsen, MSU associate professor of animal science. “Our judges can see how the students improve from their first year when they may have been freshmen to their senior year when they’re participating for their third or fourth time.”

She also thanked the Rasmussen family for hosting the event, citing the partnership between Michigan dairy producers, companies, and or organizations that make the event possible and show the industry’s commitment to training future dairy producers.

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