By Jose Ortiz
For MAA

New Orleans has its Mardis Gras.
Munich has its Oktoberfest.
And Rio de Janeiro has Carnival.
But Wisconsin?
Our signature event (other than Packers games) has been — and always will be — the World Dairy Expo, an amazing five-day gathering of the world’s leading dairy professionals, processors, feed suppliers, academics, veterinarians, agvocates, etc., that just concluded Saturday at the Alliant Energy Center in Madison.
Just two years shy of its 50th anniversary, this year’s expo (also known as “WDE”) attracted about 80,000 guests, eager to trade ideas and best practices. It might have been the only place in the world where a small Rwandan dairyman could learn about emerging technologies from an Irish engineer while sampling Wisconsin’s world-class cheeses.

But the humans were only half the story: The event attracted more than 2,500 top-quality North American cattle, representing seven major dairy breeds. My parent company, Milk Source, for instance, displayed more than 20 “show cows.” For my colleagues in the “genetics” side of the industry, walking the coliseum floor with a championship-caliber cow is not about profit, it is about passion.
And as WDE’s general manager Scott Bentley observes, that such passion is bigger than any one farm. “While the motivations for coming here are as different as the individual Expo-goers, there appears to be a common thread among everyone who passes through the gates,” he said. “They all share a deeply seated love for the dairy industry.
“Our contention is that this love isn’t something consciously crafted or developed by individuals. Instead, we think it has its roots somewhere in collective genetic make-up. Simply put: It lays somewhere in our DNA.”
So, what exactly took place during the last week? In addition to the fun and flashy stuff, a lot of nuts-and-bolts education sessions, including:
Succession planning: While 78 percent of families intend to pass their business on to their children, only 34 percent have actually created a succession plan.
If you don’t think that’s an important topic, just remember that one out of every four American dairy farms is based here in the Badger State (a.k.a. America’s Dairyland), and more than 99 percent of them, whether small or large, are family owned.
Agroterrorism: The protection of the food chain is an imperative, emphasized FBI Veterinarian Stephen Goldsmith. But because responding to possible bio-attacks on a farm requires a lot of people and resources, “the time to meet each other is not in the middle of a cow pen,” he said.
As such, his advice included tips for onsite vigilance, proactive precautions and common-sense decision making. 
Robotic milking parlors: While I have a high personal interest in this topic, there’s no denying that new technologies are changing the way some dairies handle their cows. But when a dairy introduces robotics, it also has to deal with changes to its cow flow, traffic systems, feed and bedding delivery, manure removal and handling capabilities as well as dealing with special needs of some cows. 
The times, they are a-changin’ …For years now, WDE also has pioneered “virtual tours” of outstanding dairies, both in Wisconsin and across the country. This year’s “destinations” included the Penterman Farm in Thorp, (home to 370 milking cows); Prairieland Dairy in Firth, Nebraska (home to 1,300); SwissLane Dairy Farms in Alto, Michigan (home to 2,000) and several others. Each location discussed its specialty. In the case of these three farms, they focused on cheese making, sustainability and community involvement, respectively.
WDE’s Bentley was right, of course. People in the dairy industry love what they do, and we enjoy celebrating our chosen field with people who are equally committed.
It was no coincidence that the expo’s theme this year was “Dairy in our DNA.”
Jose Ortiz is the herd manager at Rosendale Dairy. Contact him at 920-766-3553, ext. 4649, or at chema@milksource.net. This article originally ran in the Fond du Lac Reporter.
 


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