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Four Michigan State University students competed in the 2014 National Dairy Challenge held in Fort Wayne, Ind. Pictured left to right in the top row are: Dr. Miriam Weber Nielsen, Todd Worden and Katelyn Horning. Pictured left to right in the bottom row are Andrea Meade and Barb Leipprandt. (Photo is provided courtesy of the National Dairy Challenge.)
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EAST LANSING, MI -- Four Michigan State University (MSU) graduating seniors were among 264 students representing 37 colleges and universities across the United States and Canada who competed in the 13th annual North American Intercollegiate Dairy Challenge (NAIDC) held April 3-5 in Fort Wayne, Ind. This year's event was hosted by Purdue University, MSU and The Ohio State University. Students who participated in this event are training for careers in the dairy industry ranging from producers, researchers and educators to financial analysts, animal nutritionists, farm service providers and veterinarians.

Students representing MSU were Barb Leipprandt, animal science major from Caseville; Katelyn Horning, animal science and agribusiness management student from Manchester; Andrea Meade, animal science student from Livonia; and Todd Worden, animal science student from Whittemore. Coach Dr. Miriam Weber Nielsen from the MSU Department of Animal Science traveled with the team to the competition.

Dairy Challenge is an innovative two-day competition designed by university and industry dairy science experts geared to students pursuing dairy-related programs and careers. Students are challenged to apply what they've learned in the classroom to a real-world situation by analyzing a working dairy operation while working as part of a four-person team. Team members are charged with recalling basic dairy management principles and their practical applications and tested on their organizational, time management, data analysis, public speaking, leadership and teamwork skills. In its 13-year history, Dairy Challenge has helped train more than 4,500 students through the national contest, Dairy Challenge Academy and four annual regional contests.

In this year's contest, participants visited six dairy farms located in Indiana, Michigan and Ohio as part of their training to help farmers evaluate and adapt management principles for optimizing success and animal care. Also, industry professionals presented cutting-edge research, new programs and career opportunities to students.

On the first day of the Dairy Challenge, each team received information for a working dairy operation. Armed with production and farm management records, students conducted a walk-through inspection of their assigned dairy farm before having an opportunity to interview the farm's herd managers. Team members then evaluated the information collected from the interviews, on-site inspection and farm-generated reports to develop a farm analysis and presentation that included recommendations for improving animal nutrition, reproduction efficiency, milking procedures, animal health, housing and finances.

The contest culminated with teams presenting their findings and recommendations to and fielding questions from a panel of judges that included dairy producers, veterinarians, farm finance experts and industry representatives. Team scores were awarded based on the accuracy of the analysis and recommendations, and awards were presented at a banquet.

"I have competed in the Dairy Challenge at MSU for three years, and each year I learn something new and grow in my knowledge about the dairy industry," Leipprandt said. "The NAIDC gave me the opportunity to experience the industry on a national level and communicate with other students with the same interests as me. I recommend participating in the Dairy Challenge to anyone that plans on going into ANY part of the dairy industry. You will get some of the best "in-field" experience and create strong network ties."

This year's event also marked the second Dairy Challenge Academy. This extension of the NAIDC was developed in 2013 to expand the educational and networking opportunities to even more college students. Academy participants also analyzed and developed recommendations for operating dairies. Instead of working on teams made up of members all from the same college or university, however, teams were organized as mixed-university teams with two advisors assigned to help coach each team.

Sixteen MSU students participated in the Academy: MSU Institute of Agricultural Technology dairy management program freshmen Caleb Brown and Conner Lewis, Jonesville, and Rebecca Swartzendruber, Pigeon; and Michael Pell, Fremont; and dairy management program sophomores Jenna Martin, Westphalia, and Allison Pung, Portland; animal science juniors Kayleigh Gratz, Allegan, and Jennie Lubbers, Lake Odessa; agribusiness management senior Ron Groen, Teewater, Ontario, Canada; and animal science seniors Chelsey Clemens, West Branch; Josh Garver, White Pigeon; Samantha Mamarow, Saline; Mark Ray, Gladwin; Kris Saunders, Lansing; Amanda Swope, Sturgis; and Carmen Zwemmer, Elkton.

The North American Intercollegiate Dairy Challenge was established as a management contest to incorporate all phases of a specific dairy business. Its mission is to facilitate education, communication and the exchange of ideas between students, agribusiness representatives, dairy producers and universities to further the development of the dairy industry and foster growth of new industry leaders. The program is supported financially through donations from 130 dairy businesses and producers and coordinated by a volunteer board of directors.

The MSU Dairy Challenge program is generously sponsored by: ABS Global, ADM Alliance Nutrition, AIS Equipment, Caledonia Farmers Elevator, Cargill Animal Nutrition, Dairy Farmers of America, Falmouth Cooperative, the Michigan Milk Producers Association, Nietzke & Faupel P.C., Nobis Agri Service, NorthStar Cooperative & Antel Bio, Prince Agri Products, Purina Animal Nutrition, Thumb Veterinary Services and Vita Plus Corporation. Significant support is also provided by the Michigan Dairy Memorial and Scholarship Foundation, the Roger and Marjorie Mellenberger Dairy Associates Program Enhancement Fund and the Frederick Pierce Halbert Memorial Endowed Scholarship Fund at MSU.

Visit www.dairychallenge.org or www.facebook.com/DairyChallenge for more details on regional and national NAIDC events. For more information about MSU participation in the MSU Dairy Challenge, the Midwest Regional Dairy Challenge or the National Dairy Challenge, contact Dr. Miriam Weber Nielsen in the MSU Department of Animal Science at 517-432-5443.

Cornell University will host the 2015 NAIDC and Dairy Challenge Academy April 9-11 in Syracuse, NY.

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