Like those who have gone before, the next generation of dairy farmers, those currently in their 20s and 30s, are sure to face a wide array of challenges as they push forward in building their dairying careers.
With its world-class Trade Show featuring more than 800 companies, dairy cattle breed shows showcasing the finest animals in North America and a series of top-flight seminars providing access to some of the most innovative minds in the industry, World Dairy Expo is well-positioned to assist these up-and-comers. Here’s a look at how three young dairy producers have benefitted from trips to Expo in recent years:
All of the chores that go along with exhibiting in a dairy cattle breed show kept 27-year-old Andrew Mowen plenty busy throughout Expo week in 2014. Even so, he left time in his schedule to visit exhibits in World Dairy Expo’s Trade Show.
“We’re always on the lookout for new ideas that will help us get better at taking care of our animals and improve our management overall,” Mowen says. “World Dairy Expo is the best trade show there is.”
Along with partner David Schaffer, Mowen started Stormview Dairy, an all-registered 200-cow dairy near Shobonier, Ill., in 2014. They milk Holsteins, Jerseys and Guernseys.
Exhibits featuring cutting-edge precision technology were on the partners' “must see” list during their trip last year. They currently milk in a double-six herringbone parlor featuring automatic takeoffs and milk meters.
“We wanted to get a closer look at some of the systems that send milk weights from each cow’s RFID tag to a computer in the farm office immediately after milking,” Mowen says. “With that kind of system, you can get all kinds of information that will help you determine what’s going on with the cow.
“It’s a way to make sure you’re doing things right all of the time, not just some of the time. One of our goals at the dairy is to work smarter, not harder,” he says.
Mowen and Schaffer also devoted a fair amount of their “free time” at Expo interacting with representatives from major semen companies taking part in the Trade Show. “We spend a lot of time during the year on the Internet and pouring through catalogues researching different bulls,” Mowen explains.
“At Expo, we were able to meet with people from a lot of different companies in a short period of time," Mowen says.
"We could talk to them about their newest promotions and what they’ve been seeing with the bulls they have out there. We also had the chance to talk to a lot of other breeders and find out what is and isn’t working for them. This is a great place to learn,” he says.
Doubling cow numbers during the next couple of years is a driving force in 39-year-old Brian Begert’s life these days. The Trade Show, he says, is his one of his “go-to” places for gathering ideas that could come into play.
Brian, his wife, Kari, and his parents, Dennis and Cindy, milk 250 Holsteins near Neillsville, Wis.
“The trade show here is just awesome,” says Brian, who has attended WDE every year since he was 18. “If you want to learn about anything related to the dairy business, chances are pretty good you’ll find it here.”
The Begerts have been laying the groundwork for their expansion for the past three years. They built a double-eight vertical-lift parlor two years ago. This past year, they renovated their freestall to accommodate wind-tunnel ventilation.
“We got a lot of ideas and information for both of those projects at Expo,” says Brian, who also operates Begert Hoof Care, LLC, a hoof-trimming business. “There are so many companies represented here. You can compare different products and services and talk to the people in the know.”
At this past year’s Expo, Brian used some of his time to check out the latest computerized
heat detection systems from several companies.
“We’ve been hearing good things about the technology from several other farmers," he says.“It doesn’t take the place of watching cows for signs of heat, but it can reduce some of the labor. That’s getting to be more of an issue all the time."
Brian also makes it a point to set aside some time during his trip every year to walk through the New Holland Pavilions and attend some of the breed shows. “The cattle you see here are the best of the best by far. You don’t just come to Expo with a county fair winner. The cows here are extra special,” he says.
An opportunity to see a large cross-section of the best dairy cows in the world was Gerret DeGroot’s primary motivation for traveling from the Netherlands to World Dairy Expo in 2014.
“We go to several shows in the Netherlands every year, and many people at those shows told me that there is nothing else like Expo,” says DeGroot, noting that last year’s visit was his first to Madison. “They said I had to see it for myself.”
DeGroot is part of a family management team that includes his father, two uncles and two cousins. They milk 250 registered Holsteins.
While he marveled at the large variety of commercial exhibits in the Trade Show and made it a point to sit in at a couple of Expo educational seminars, DeGroot spent most of his time cruising the aisles in the livestock pavilions and attending breed shows in the Coliseum to get a closer look at the cattle.
“I had seen pictures in magazines and catalogues,” he says. “But there is nothing like seeing them in person.
“I also was able to spend time talking to the breeders here. I learned more about the best cows and about the sires they were bred to. We already use a lot of semen from U.S. bulls in our herd. Now, I have even more information about some of the sires we might like to use in the future,” DeGroot continues.
Combining his visit to the Expo with a tour of around 20 dairy operations in northern Illinois and southern Wisconsin gave DeGroot additional insights on dairying in the upper Midwest.
“I was on small, show-cow farms and also on large, commercial farms,” he says. “I was impressed by the high level of management I saw on all of them. And I will always remember the beautiful cows I saw.”
DeGroot’s goal upon returning home was to start planning another trip to Expo, this time bringing along other family members. “I am convinced that this is something they have to see for themselves,” he says.