A “mooving” experience to explore leadership, jobs and careers in the agriculture, food, and natural resources pathway

National 4-H Dairy Conference provides an opportunity to practice employability and leadership skills while learning about dairy and the many jobs and careers it takes to support the industry.

Youth delegates at the National 4-H Dairy Conference; a dairy cow in the show ring; dairy cattle on a farm.
Photos provided by Debra Barrett and Melissa Elischer. Collage shows the 2022 Michigan delegation and scenes from the National 4-H Dairy Conference experience.

Ponder this: how do you make a dairy cow so sleek and shiny for the show ring? How many different types of jobs does it take to raise a cow and get milk or cheese to the consumer? Ask a National 4-H Dairy Conference delegate about show cattle fitting. Regarding jobs, one can quickly name more than 50 different job and careers areas associated with getting milk to the consumer, ranging from owner to feed salesperson, milker to herdsman, veterinarian to researcher, inspector to accountant, grocer and more!

The National 4-H Dairy Conference is a leadership and career exploration event for youth enrolled in the 4-H dairy project. Typically, there are around 200 youth and adults at the conference, youth being of age 15-18. It is a very unique event as it is the only national 4-H youth conference connected to a specific animal species and Michigan State University Extension was proud to take a delegation of Michigan 4-H youth in 2022. The Michigan delegation attending the National 4-H Dairy Conference was sponsored by the Michigan 4-H Foundation and a grant from Michigan Milk Producers. 

Michigan’s young people joined together with youth from across the United States and Canada for the conference, which is held annually in Madison, Wisconsin just before the World Dairy Expo (WDE). At the conference, youth tour the greater Madison area, which is rich in dairy history and production. The conference ends with a trip to WDE, which many delegates say is the highlight of their young lives to date. 

WDE is the place where everyone somehow related to the dairy industry convenes each fall. The combination of a national 4-H event teamed together with a global business and industry highlight provides a venue for young people and adults to learn together while building bridges and networking for future employment opportunities.

Michigan has a significant dairy industry all of its own. Per the United Dairy Industry of Michigan’s Dairy Facts, Michigan ranked 6th in the nation in 2020 for milk production and produced 11.6 billion pounds of milk. Michigan’s dairy industry generates nearly 40,000 jobs in some way associated with this part of the agriculture, food and natural resources career pathway.

Whether a young person explores employment opportunities in Michigan or across the globe, employability skills matter to dairy industry professionals. The National 4-H Dairy Conference makes sure that every delegate at the conference plays a role in making it successful while fostering skills. From writing thank you notes to introducing presenters, and making sure everyone is ready for the next tour, meal, or educational session, the conference emphasizes life and employability skills. This includes social skills, manners and etiquette, professionalism, time management, citizenship, leadership and civic engagement.

Michigan State University Extension and Michigan 4-H Youth Development helps to prepare young people for successful futures.  For more information or resources on career exploration, workforce preparation, financial education, or entrepreneurship, email us at 4-HCareerPrep@anr.msu.edu. To learn more about the Michigan 4-H dairy project, contact Melissa Elischer at elischer@msu.edu.

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