Students from Madison, Platteville and River Falls come together for one-week dairy nutrition course

In early January, a group of students from UW–Madison, UW–Platteville and UW–River Falls gathered for Dairy Science 375: Dairy Nutrition Experience. The course, which is sponsored by Purina Animal Nutrition LLC, a Land O Lakes Company, is a weeklong opportunity consisting of mentored, hands-on dairy management experiences.

“Purina provides a first-class opportunity for the students,” says Ted Halbach, the UW–Madison course coordinator and a distinguished faculty instructor in animal and dairy sciences, “there’s no other way to describe it.” The other course coordinators are Ryan Pralle, assistant professor in the School of Agriculture at UW–Platteville and Sylvia Kehoe, professor in animal and food science at UW–River Falls. Pralle’s position is funded entirely by the Dairy Innovation Hub.

To start off the week, the class met at Wessel Dairy in Mineral Point, Wis. to complete a dairy farm audit. At Wessel Dairy, students were broken up into groups and visited different areas of the farm, including the transition barn, lactation barn, calf and heifer housing, and feed center. They also collected their own data and were able to have engaging conversations with staff from Purina, Zinpro, Diamond V, VAS and the Wessel Dairy herd manager.

“It was a pretty eye-opening experience for my students,” says Pralle. “They got to work with consultants and others that day to learn hands-on how they view every part of the process.”

After a debriefing and brainstorming session, the groups identified four areas where the farm had potential management opportunities and provided recommendations to address them. Each group prepared a presentation on the results of their audit to share with the Wessel’s during the Leading Dairy Producer Conference in Wisconsin Dells, Wis.

“I really enjoyed working collectively as a team to prepare and present the herd audit report to the farm owner,” says Kylie Konyn, a sophomore at UW–Madison majoring in dairy science, “Not only was I able to meet students from other UW campuses and learn from Purina experts, but I was also able to advance my communication skills in discussions I had with the farmer.”

Following the farm audit and the Leading Dairy Producer Conference, the class traveled to the Purina Animal Nutrition Center in Grey Summit, Mo. for two full days of tours, workshops, and presentations by Purina staff. Students learned about a variety of topics, including dairy nutrition, beef-dairy crossbreds, forage quality, milk production and sustainable agriculture. Students also got to go on multiple tours around the 1200-acre Purina campus.

“My favorite experience during the course was touring the Purina Research Farm,” says Alexis Healey, a junior at UW–Platteville majoring in agribusiness, “On the research farm, we were able to learn about other livestock beyond dairy and were able to tailor discussion sessions to what we as students wanted to learn.” Other tours included the Beef Innovation Center, the Heifer Innovation Center and more.

“I really enjoyed the entire experience — from the farm evaluation to the networking,” says Katie Yahnke, a senior at UW–River Falls majoring in dairy science and ag business, “Not only were we given the opportunity to network with students from other universities, but also industry professionals. Overall, the experience was a great learning opportunity and provided my peers and I with the chance to fully engage in a hands-on experience.”

This was the first year Dairy Science 375: Dairy Nutrition Experience was open to other campuses — originally, it was exclusively for UW–Madison students. Halbach, who has been the lead instructor for the course over the years, worked with UW–Platteville and UW–River Falls to provide this opportunity to a larger group of students.

“Overall, it was a great experience,” says River Falls instructor Kehoe, “and I’m looking forward to doing it again.”

The Dairy Innovation Hub has infused 17 new faculty (and counting) between the three campuses, which has added expertise as well as bandwidth. Having participated in the class as a student at UW–Madison, once Ryan Pralle became faculty, he advocated for students from UW–Platteville and UW–River Falls be included. Pralle and other new faculty have created opportunities for students to see classroom experiences play out in the real world, which is part of the Hub’s core mission of making connections between academia and industry.

As the Hub matures at UW–Madison, UW–Platteville and UW–River Falls, there will be additional opportunities for students, faculty and stakeholders alike to collaborate to grow Wisconsin’s vibrant dairy community.