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National 4-H Dairy Conference wows attendees

Badger View: The 65th event, which focuses on educating youth about the dairy industry, was held during World Dairy Expo.

Fran O'Leary, Wisconsin Agriculturist Senior Editor

October 18, 2023

3 Min Read
Andrew Curtis-Szalach, Claire Sheehan, and Nathan Salisbury
LEARNING OPPORTUNITY: Nearly 140 youth from across the country attended the National 4-H Dairy Conference Oct. 1-4 in Middleton, Wis. Attendees got an opportunity for hands-on learning, including Andrew Curtis-Szalach (left), Claire Sheehan and Nathan Salisbury, who served on this year’s planning committee. FRAN O’LEARY

Youth from across the country who attended the National 4-H Dairy Conference Oct. 1-4 in Middleton, Wis., say they had a lot of fun and appreciated the opportunity to travel to Wisconsin for the dairy-focused learning experience.

Andrew Curtis-Szalach of Cazenovia, N.Y., says he especially enjoyed the tours. The 17-year-old high school junior says he plans to attend college and pursue a career in ag engineering or teaching high school agriculture.

Curtis-Szalach was one of 24 youth from New York to fly to Wisconsin for the conference.

“I knew a lot of them [delegates from New York] before the trip, but I got to know them a lot better at the dairy conference,” he says.

Claire Sheehan, 16, from Sunnyside, Wash., lives on a 3,600-cow dairy farm in the southeastern part of the state. The high school junior was one of four students selected from Washington to attend the conference.

“My favorite part was the tours and seeing how beautiful the farms and landscape is in Wisconsin,” she says.

Sheehan says she is thinking about a career in agriculture or nursing.

“We had some discussions at the conference about careers and how to push through and identify our passions,” she says. “I think this was a really fun experience, and I learned a lot. I liked seeing the biogas plant and rotary milking parlor at Crave Brothers Farm. I’ve never seen that before.”

Nathan Salisbury, 18, of Kensington, Minn., says he attended the conference last year as a delegate and was honored to be a member of the planning committee for this year’s conference. He grew up on a 40-cow dairy farm in central Minnesota.

“My favorite part was meeting people and learning their stories,” he says. “I also liked the speakers. It is interesting to learn how invested they are in the industry.”

Salisbury, who graduated from high school in June, says he is planning to get a job as a welder and become a dairy farmer.

65-year tradition

The National 4-H Dairy Conference was established as an educational effort on behalf of the 4-H dairy project. In 1955, Extension agents and dairy project volunteers throughout the country recognized a need for quality dairy programing for youth in the dairy project.

“Organizers wanted high school-age 4-H’ers to learn more about dairy beyond showing cattle at the fair,” explains Charlie Crave, conference volunteer from Crave Brothers Farm in Waterloo, Wis.

The annual conference was originally held in Chicago. Then it transferred to Madison, Wis., once World Dairy Expo was established in 1967. Now the event is held at the Marriott Hotel in Middleton during World Dairy Expo. A total of 138 youth from across the country and two Canadian provinces attended this year’s event.

Attendees had the opportunity to tour ABS, Hoard’s Dairyman, Jones Dairy Farm, Crave Brothers Farm and World Dairy Expo during the conference. They listened to a variety of motivational speakers including Jack Hippen, marketing director from ST Genetics, and Alice in Dairyland Ashley Hagenow. They also listened to a session on finding a pathway to production agriculture.

Teenage 4-H members interested in attending the National 4-H Dairy Conference should contact their county Extension 4-H agent and 4-H club leaders to learn about scholarships and funding to help pay the registration fee and travel costs. A lot of counties and 4-H clubs have money available to support dairy youth. The registration fee for 2023 was $650 per person, which included lodging, meals and transportation during the conference.

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About the Author(s)

Fran O'Leary

Wisconsin Agriculturist Senior Editor, Farm Progress

Fran O’Leary lives in Brandon, Wis., and has been editor of Wisconsin Agriculturist since 2003. Even though O’Leary was born and raised on a farm in Illinois, she has spent most of her life in Wisconsin. She moved to the state when she was 18 years old and later graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater with a bachelor's degree in journalism.

Before becoming editor of Wisconsin Agriculturist, O’Leary worked at Johnson Hill Press in Fort Atkinson as a writer and editor of farm business publications and at the Janesville Gazette in Janesville as farm editor and a feature writer. Later, she signed on as a public relations associate at Bader Rutter in Brookfield, and served as managing editor and farm editor at The Reporter, a daily newspaper in Fond du Lac.

She has been a member of American Agricultural Editors’ Association (now Agricultural Communicators Network) since 2003.

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