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Students gain additional dairy industry experience through consortium

CLOVIS, N.M. - Students from around the country are enhancing their experience in the dairy industry through the annual Southern Great Plains Dairy Consortium in Clovis.

Larry Fox, of Washington State University, explains milking machine functions and maintenance during a visit to one of the many dairies around Clovis as part of the Southern Great Plains Dairy Consortium. Through the consortium, students from across the country further their studies through hands-on experience at area dairies.(NMSU photo by Audry Olmsted)

The consortium is a collaborative effort between New Mexico State University's Cooperative Extension Service and nine other universities to meet the educational and research needs of a rapidly expanding dairy industry. In the six-week teaching course that started May 18, students are taking what they have learned in the classroom and putting that knowledge to good use by getting hands-on experience at some of the nearly 40 dairies around Clovis.

"They know everything out of the book when it comes to dairy and science," Robert Hagevoort, Extension dairy specialist, said of the 22 students attending the consortium. "What we're trying to do is connect their book knowledge with their eyes, their ears, their nose and their hands, trying to get them to open their eyes to what's on a dairy. Ninety percent of running a dairy, or being on a dairy, is being able to interpret what the animal is telling you."

Due to a lack of federal funding, Hagevoort said, many universities have consolidated departments and cut research facilities in an effort to reduce costs. This has resulted in a loss of many dairy science departments and faculty positions, as well as a diminished emphasis on dairy science educational opportunities. As a result, students are not exposed to the benefits and career opportunities in dairy science.

"There's very little support for the dairy industry, yet the dairy industry between Texas and New Mexico is the third largest in the nation - after Wisconsin and California," Hagevoort said.

The idea for the teaching consortium actually came from producers themselves requesting that programs be developed to help them carry on the dairy industry tradition in the Southwest.

Through the consortium, professors are brought in from participating universities to share their knowledge on everything from dairy management, reproduction and animal health to environmental impact and animal welfare issues. The students who apply to take part in the consortium are juniors and seniors who are looking to supplement their dairy science, animal science or agricultural business degrees. They earn credit hours through the training at their home university.

Besides providing training and support for students, the consortium is also a good way to connect the soon-to-be graduates with professionals in the dairy industry who have jobs to fill and who can also give insights into what they look for when hiring.

By the time students graduate from a university, they are ready to enter a career in the dairy industry. Hagevoort said that of the students who attended the consortium last year, some went on to be hired by dairies and allied industries while others returned this year to the consortium to continue their training.

Students who are accepted into the program receive a scholarship through the consortium that pays for their training and housing.

Hagevoort said the goal of the consortium is to connect people who have different needs.

"We're trying to link these two needs: students who need a job and the allied industry that has a need for good students," he said.

The other cooperating institutions in the consortium are: Abilene Christian University, the University of Arizona, Oklahoma State University, Texas A&M, Texas Tech, West Texas A&M University, Colorado State University, Washington State University and the University of Florida.