Intercollegiate academic competitions are not a new concept and are perhaps too numerous to count. One, however, stands above the rest in agriculture: the North American Intercollegiate Dairy Challenge—more commonly referred to as Dairy Challenge. Dairy Challenge includes teams from universities across the United States and Canada, with the goal to prepare students for productive leadership roles within the dairy industry.

The event itself spans two and a half days and takes place at different farms every year. At the beginning of the event, students are presented with herd records, production records, financial records, and a description of the farm. The students spend their first evening reviewing the information and evaluating the farm’s strengths and weaknesses from a production and financial standpoint. The next day, students get an opportunity to observe the farm’s facilities first-hand. From there, the students have five hours to assemble a presentation regarding their findings and improvement plans. The students then present to a panel of judges, displaying the improvements they would make and the justifications behind these decisions.

Virginia Tech students presenting during the 2022 Dairy Challenge Academy.

Virginia Tech students presenting during the 2022 Dairy Challenge Academy.
Virginia Tech students presenting during the 2022 Dairy Challenge Academy.

The combination of nutritional, financial, production, and veterinary topics makes Dairy Challenge the pinnacle of competition for any student interested in the dairy industry. Alex White, an instructor at Virginia Tech, recognizes the educational and practical benefits of participating in the Dairy Challenge and is one of the advisors and coordinators for this event. White has also served on the board of directors as the finance chair for the past three years.

“Dairy Challenge is one of the best educational opportunities or experiences available to students. Regardless of what the student wants to go into in livestock or agriculture, this event will help them,” said White.

Kayla Brody, a junior in dairy science and a participant in the Dairy Challenge Academy this year, learned of the event through a friend and was determined to participate after enrolling in Virginia Tech.

“A friend back home told me all about it (Dairy Challenge) and I came into Virginia Tech wanting to do Dairy Challenge. I liked how it encompasses everything you learn in your classes and translates that knowledge into real-world application.”

While most students would consider this a production or industry-focused event, Alex White stresses the benefits to potential veterinary students.

“If they want to be a veterinarian, it helps them look beyond ‘what do we need to do to treat this sick cow’, but to further say ‘what can we do to prevent cows from getting sick,’” White added.

Eli Hall, a senior in Animal and Poultry Sciences at Virginia Tech and another participant in the Dairy Challenge Academy this year, is an example of the future veterinary students Alex White hopes to reach. Eli will be enrolling in veterinary school at Purdue University College of Veterinary Medicine next fall and stressed how informative this event was for a career in veterinary medicine.

“I want to work with food animals after vet school, and I felt like the event was excellent job training for consulting for and working with farmers. It was very educational for me,” said Hall.

The Dairy Challenge and its multiple events provide an excellent overview of how different dairy farms across the United States and Canada operate and how they differ. Kayla Brody found this part particularly intriguing.

“I also competed in the Southern Regional Dairy Challenge in the fall, which was held in Texas, so it was cool to see how the barns and setups differed from the ones we saw in Wisconsin (for the Dairy Challenge Academy).”

The Dairy Challenge is perhaps the most enriching and educational experience available to students studying animal agriculture in any form. For those interested, more information can be found at and on Instagram at @dairychallenge.


Article by: Noah Willis, Student Communications Assistant, APSC/DASC