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Carver County Dairy Expo includes mental health focus

February 19, 2019

University of Minnesota Extension and the Carver County Core Dairy Team drew together 300 members of the dairy community from 20 counties on Feb. 18 at Central High School in Norwood Young America. Now a 27-year tradition, the Carver County Dairy Expo is known as a day of camaraderie in the dairy industry, with a goal of learning and networking. Attendees visited with more than 50 vendors.

“This year, we had big focus on mental health,” says Colleen Carlson, Extension educator in Carver and Scott counties who leads the planning committee. Ted Matthews, Rural Mental Health Counselor with the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, spoke.

“It’s not easy, but we can all learn from the healthy communications techniques that Ted has been sharing with farmers during these changing times,” says Emily Wilmes, Extension livestock educator who has been collaborating with Extension partners on mental health issues. “The Expo was also a chance to share resources and make it easier to ask for help.”

Emily Wilmes talks with another woman in front of display table with brochures on it

Carver County Dairy Expo has long been a way for Extension to connect University and industry resources in the areas of milk production and quality, genetics, cow comfort, calving practices and better herd management. But it’s important to address the current financial difficulties and stress, too.

“Times have been hard, but dairy farmers are optimistic because even small changes can pay off,” says Carlson. “We made an effort this year to offer more affordable ways to improve. Even better hoof care makes a cow healthier, and a healthier cow produces a better product for the consumer.”

Expo keynote speaker, Dr. Mark Stephenson, director of dairy policy analysis at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, discussed regional changes, price pressures and the outlook for 2019.  Preventing and reducing injuries on dairy farms was another topic that drew people out.

“Dairy folks are not able to take a lot of vacation away from the constant needs of their cows, so we pack a lot into one day,” says Carlson.

Reaching the beef industry, Spanish-speaking labor

Javier Lara walks in dairy expo with young girl and man wearing U of M shirt

As with milk, when your meat tastes just right, there is a lot that goes into that. “There is much that crosses over from dairy to beef,” says Carlson, “and many dairy cows will become beef at the end of their lives, so dairy workers need to be aware of best practices. Good animal husbandry, handling, health and record-keeping are all topics when caring for both milking cows and the steers that become beef.”

Much of that responsibility lands on the shoulders of laborers, many of whom speak Spanish. For the third year, a Minnesota Beef Council training on beef quality assurance (BQA) was customized as “Garantía la Calidad de la Carne de res” and delivered by Patty Sinclair, animal nutritionist. BQA training is also offered at other times in other locations; all who complete the training receive a certificate.  

Javier Lara, a panelist at a previous Expo, says Latino workers highly value opportunities to learn more and take leadership. His own career path from being a milker after moving from Mexico to becoming a dairy farm manager in Little Falls, Minn., and the success he’s had with improving farm productivity, shows that training matters.

 “…those farmers [from a previous job] gave me opportunities to go to meetings and training, and to learn more about where the industry was going,” says Lara. “I think that’s the big key: let people learn from researchers, the people who have done studies on many things we deal with every day.”

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