University of Wisconsin earned the First Place Platinum award alongside Ohio State University and Cornell University this past weekend at a North American Intercollegiate Dairy Challenge.

A team of four students from UW traveled to California for the competition, which challenged each team to analyze the dairy operations of a farm. The teams walked through the dairy, asked questions of the owners, observed records and then presented their observations and recommendations to a team of professionals.

According to David Combs, a professor in the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences and coach for the team of students, UW has taken first place four out of the nine years the challenge has been held.

“It felt great. It’s a good testament to the quality of students we have in our program,” Combs said. “It also says a lot of the quality of our curriculum.”

Combs added the four students in the team had to apply and be interviewed with a dairy extension agent to be chosen to represent UW in the challenge. Students’ backgrounds with a class in dairy management also prepared the team for the competition.

UW senior Lydia Hardie, one of the students who participated in the challenge, said in an e-mail the competition is very similar to the class they are enrolled in, where students analyze a dairy in Madison and offer suggestions to the producer.

Although they faced tough competition, with over 30 universities from across the U.S. and Canada attending, Combs said there were high expectations.

“It’s a stiff competition with expectations being high,” Combs said. “We felt like we had a good group of students, but it’s not a cake walk really. It’s a contest that tests skills.”

Hardie also said the team’s knowledge and experience in dairies helped in the competition.

“We had our uneasiness, but knew that the university has a great dairy science program and that we all had a farm background to help us out,” Hardie said. “I was excited that we were able to contribute to the university’s record of strong performances.”

The two-day contest hosted by California State University-Fresno and Cal Poly requires students have expertise in dairy nutrition, feeding cattle, dairy reproduction, milk procedures and milk quality. The challenge also tests farm financial management.

Combs added the competition tests students through the final presentation to a panel of experts, including veterinarians, consultants and bankers. In the competition, students also learn through experience how different types of operations work in California.

“I think our students get exposed to different types of dairies,” Combs said. “For me as a coach, it’s pretty gratifying just seeing students do well.”

The goal of the Dairy Challenge is to facilitate education and communication across the nation among students, dairy producers, universities and agribusiness. Combs added the challenge is a good experience for students to represent UW and challenge their knowledge.