Michigan 4-H members learn about the global dairy industry at the National 4-H Dairy Conference

Seven youth traveled to Wisconsin to expand their knowledge on dairy science, careers, technology and more.

Members of the Michigan delegation outside a banner that says National 4-H Dairy Conference.
The Michigan delegation takes a moment to connect with 4-H and MSU alumni at the National 4-H Dairy Conference. Photo credit: Cathy Fry

October is an exciting month for dairy enthusiasts around the world as they converge on Madison, Wisconsin for World Dairy Expo. This annual event brings together all members of the dairy industry for world-class cattle shows, in-person and virtual tours, educational sessions, judging contests, networking and much more. Running concurrently with World Dairy Expo is the National 4-H Dairy Conference, the only national 4-H event that is centered on a project animal: dairy cattle. The conference brings together youth from across the U.S. and Canada for four days of learning about the national and global dairy industries, as well as building life skills

This year, around 100 youth and adults attended the conference, including ten people from Michigan: seven 4-H members, one Michigan State University Extension volunteer, and two MSU Extension educators. The Michigan delegation came from Berrien, Clinton, Ingham, Isabella, Mecosta, Newaygo and Washtenaw counties, all with different ties to the dairy industry. On the way to Madison, the group made a stop at Shuler Dairy Farms in Baroda, Michigan, to tour a dairy farm and learn from a fellow Michigander and MSU family. The Shuler’s milk their herd with an automated milking system (AMS) or robot and house the cattle in an open pack with a tunnel ventilated barn. After a quick ice cream break on the farm, the group continued to Wisconsin to prepare for the conference.

The National 4-H Dairy Conference provides participants a chance to learn about dairy history by visiting Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin, the home of Hoard’s Dairyman publication and farm along with the National Dairy Shrine. This opportunity to reflect on the past makes the advances we know in the 21st century even more striking. Additional field trips include visiting an ABS Global production facility to learn about reproductive technologies; the Crave Brothers Farm and Farmstead Cheese to engage with a multi-generational dairy family and see how four brothers, their children, and families have created a successful and diversified operation; and capping off the week with a day to explore World Dairy Expo. 

There are numerous educational sessions during the week that cover topics like dairy food science, advocating for the dairy industry, dairy judging, cattle nutrition, parlor management and animal care. Through all of these experiences and interacting with professionals from across the U.S., youth and adult participants gain a new understanding of the myriad of educational and career opportunities available in the dairy industry.

A unique experience for the Michigan delegation this year was seeing one of our own presenting at the conference. Kristen Burkhardt attended the National 4-H Dairy Conference as a delegate in 2015, returned as a youth planning committee member in 2016, and represented Cargill Animal Nutrition at the 2022 conference. Looking back on her journey from the 4-H dairy cattle project to her time at MSU as an undergraduate, and now into her career in the dairy industry, Burkhardt commented: “The National 4-H Dairy Conference was one of those events growing up that I continue to look back upon. Between the amount of wonderful people I met and the experiences which exposed me to different facets of the industry, it’s easy to talk about the conference’s impact on my journey. Returning to the conference as one of the speakers on the other side of the table was energizing to say the least. Things truly came full circle for me, and my hope is I left an impact on the participants just like the speakers did when I was there in 2015 and 2016. The future of the dairy industry is very bright!”

When returning to Michigan, the delegation stopped at the MSU AgBioResearch Southwest Michigan Research and Extension Center to learn about the research trials at the farm, which included pepper and apple projects. There are 15 research centers around Michigan with the mission “…to conduct leading-edge research that combines scientific expertise with practical experience to advance agriculture, sustain natural resources, generate economic prosperity and enhance the quality of life in Michigan and around the world.”

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 Association.

The 2023 National 4-H Dairy Conference will be October 1-4. Registration information for Michigan 4-H youth interested in attending the conference will be available in July 2023. 

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