The Kellogg Farm and Michigan Food and Farming Systems (MIFFS) are partnering to start a regional chapter of the Dairy Grazing Apprenticeship (DGA) program, servicing Michigan, northern Indiana and northwestern Ohio. A kick-off meeting was held at the MSU. W.K. Kellogg Biological Station (KBS) in Hickory Corners on February 26th to introduce the DGA program and provide information on how to become a Master Dairy Grazier and the benefits it could bring to dairy farms.
Dairy Grazing Apprenticeship (DGA) is a non-profit organization that was started in Wisconsin, but is currently present in 11 states. Over 150 Master Graziers are currently approved across these 11 states, resulting in a large, and growing network of experts that are available to train apprentices. The DGA is an Accredited Apprenticeship program registered with the United States Department of Labor. DGA pairs experienced grazing dairy farmers (Master Dairy Graziers) with an apprentice with little to no experience but with interest in dairy (Dairy Grazing Apprentice). The apprentices get paid while learning from their mentors, gain hands-on experience, and have other training opportunities.
Apprentices that sign up for the DGA program will be mentored by an approved Master Dairy Grazier over a two year period, often times with the opportunity for advancement after the completion of the apprenticeship. The training program lays out a series of competencies that are required to successfully own and operate a grazing dairy, including:
- Measure and manage pastures for optimal quality and quantity
- Manage cattle appropriately-heifers/dry cows, calves, milking cows
- Manage milking operations
- Assess dairy nutritional needs
- Evaluate grazing and dairy farm information for effective decision making
- Manage soil and water resources for productivity and health
- Manage farm business operations profitably
In addition to these core management skills apprentices will complete online courses and also be a part of peer discussion groups, pasture walks, farming conferences and networking opportunities.
Dairy farms have been an important part of rural communities and economies for a long time, but recent economic challenges and lack of new farmers has resulted in a loss of 5-10% of dairy farms per year across the U.S. (higher in recent years). Now more than ever, managed grazing is a lucrative method to feed dairy cattle due to the lower feed and infrastructure costs, and ability to tap into value added markets. DGA provides a pathway for new farmers to learn the skills needed to sustain small and medium size dairy farms on the landscape.
Misty Klotz, outreach coordinator for the MSU Kellogg Farm, will be serving as the regional coordinator for DGA, and working closely with Brook Wilke (KBS Farm Manager), Howard Straub (KBS Dairy Manager), Jen Silveri (MIFFS Director) and Paola Bacigalupo Sanguesa (MSU Extension Dairy Educator) to initiate DGA in our region. Klotz will be matching up Master Graziers with Apprentices, and assisting the partners with completion of the key aspects of the apprenticeship program.
For more information about DGA, visit the website at www.dga-national.org. Interested dairy graziers or apprentices in S.W. Michigan, N. Indiana, or N.W. Ohio are encouraged to reach out to Misty Klotz or Brook Wilke (269-671-2402 or firstname.lastname@example.org) for more information about how to get involved.