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Less is more when setting priorities with dairy producers

April 10, 2009
Dr. Pat Gorden, ISU College of Veterinary Medicine, (515) 294-3096, pgorden@iastate.edu
Ms. Tracy Ann Raef, Veterinary Communications, (515) 294-4602, traef@iastate.edu


 A consultative report with numerous recommendations and zero priorities will leave the dairy producer with one big question: What do I tackle first?
“Report preparation is the weak link for many field veterinarians,” said Dr. David Reid, former Wisconsin dairy consultant, during his comments to veterinary students during the 2009 Intercollegiate Veterinary Dairy Challenge held at Iowa State University. With the myriad of duties that needs to be done each day on the farm, dairy producers are busy. Focusing their attention to a few key areas that can improve the farm’s profitability will increase the chance that activities in those areas will be done. Reid advises that reports contain two to three priority areas that can be improved inexpensively and result in an economic gain.
Dr. Reid's comments were given to thirty-five veterinary students representing Iowa State University, the University of Minnesota, and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln competed in the Veterinary Dairy Challenge held in Ames, Iowa. The students, consisting of eight teams, traveled to a local dairy, where they had three hours to observe and record on-farm observations, and meet with the owner. When the teams returned to Ames, they had two hours to develop a plan of action for the dairy. Each team presented their observations to eight dairy industry leaders who served as judges.
“The competition gets students out of the classroom and on to a working dairy farm where they can apply their textbook knowledge, and develop their observation skills,” said Dr. Paul Rapnicki, dairy professor at the University of Minnesota.
Students were required to work within a strict timeline, similar to what they would experience in veterinary medicine consulting. The team-approach of the competition mimics the real-world where many successful dairy operations have management teams that are led by veterinarians.
 “Everyone on my team had a digital camera and took photos of areas that caught their attention,” said David Gibbs, third-year veterinary student at Iowa State University. “I used my digital camera to capture video with sound to document the dairy’s milking procedure.” The students learned that the photos and videos are excellent training and teaching tools on dairies, especially when discussing protocols and techniques that can be improved for greater profitability on the farm.
The judges also spent time on the farm to observe the operations and visit with the dairy owner. Although the judges may have considered different priorities, they judged the students on their ability to distill the recommendations to key priorities that would offer tangible economic benefits for the dairy. “We were impressed with the students’ observational skill,” said one of the judges. “They identified some issues that we missed.”
“Eventually I’d like to specialize in dairy consultation,” said Jennafer Glaesemann, second-year veterinary student in the ISU-UNL Professional Program in Veterinary Medicine. “The competition gave me the opportunity to develop well-articulated, viable recommendations for improvement specifically aimed towards helping the dairy owner meet his goals. That’s great experience for what I’ll be doing in practice.”
Winning teams from Group 1 were: 1st Place—Jennafer Glaesemann, UNL/ISU; Melissa Herberer, UNL/ISU; Melissa Thompson, UNL/ISU; and Wendy Thomas, ISU. 2nd Place – Joe Bender, ISU; Matt Brewer, ISU; Meredith Johns, ISU; Emily McDowell, ISU; and Clayton Riedell, ISU. 
Group 2: 1st Place – Andrew Bents, UMN; Aaron Nystrom, UMN; Nicole Tellier, UMN; and Steve Tousignant. 2nd Place – Erin Conrad, ISU; Rachel Davelaar, ISU; David Gibbs, ISU; Colin Yoder, ISU.  
The Veterinary Dairy Challenge was established in 2007 by the University of Minnesota College of Veterinary Medicine. Designed to encourage hands-on practice for future dairy veterinarians, the event has expanded to include area veterinary colleges. This year’s event was organized and hosted by veterinary students at Iowa State University. Sponsors were: ABS Global, BouMatic, Elanco, Fort Dodge, GEA Westfalia-Surge, Pfizer, Pioneer, and Swiss Valley.