June 4 2019 10:00 AM

Dairy youth programming expanded my horizons and widened my networks.

New friends and people who became extensions of my family were a huge part of my involvement in dairy youth programming.

School’s out, and summer is finally here! Summertime memories are some of my favorite. As a youth, I had the opportunity to travel the United States every summer. Our trips included the Deep South, Northeast, Midwest, West Coast, and Great Plains. One may guess these were family vacations, and they were — well, sort of.

I made many of these trips in university vans with teammates, extension agents, and volunteer chaperones. We weren’t related by blood, but we were close enough after all of those summers together that I consider these people an extension of my family. Dairy brought us together, and 4-H made it possible.

Running a dairy farm and caring for multiple children meant that my parents were short on time they could devote to driving each of us to our various activities. Fortunately, we had an extensive network of friends and family who enabled us to still participate in the hobbies we loved.

Not only did we get to travel and experience life beyond the farm, but it also fostered our independence, decision-making, and personal responsibility. I am forever grateful to the volunteers who devoted much of their summers to coaching us in dairy judging and quiz bowl. I still greet them with a hug when I see them and immediately feel comforted in their presence. These people helped raise and shape me as an individual. They challenged me, they corrected me, they taught me, and they genuinely cared for my well-being.

My teammates and I all grew up together. It’s interesting to learn as you age the significance of childhood friendships. Knowing each other when you were most vulnerable creates bonds that time cannot change. There are quite a few embarrassing and silly stories we share that still make me smile to this day.

As an adult, I can stand tall and speak confidently and clearly to an individual or a large room filled with people. I attribute this to dairy judging. The hours we spent judging, preparing, and visualizing the cows in order to present our oral reasons to our coaches all paid off. Not only did they allow our teams to be successful in national competitions, but they set us up for success in our adult careers.

In addition to these trips educating us in dairy knowledge and public speaking, they introduced us to new ways of farming and extended our networks, as other dairy farmers opened their barns for us to stop and practice along our travels. There may be more than one way to run a dairy, but the welcoming and inviting nature of farm families is pretty universal.

The opportunities 4-H and breed organizations offer youth combined with the selfless and passionate support of volunteers and extension agents is absolutely incredible. I am so grateful that I had their influence. I encourage today’s youth to get involved. I will forever appreciate that my parents, friends, and extended family all helped me find a way to make it happen.

Erin Massey

Erin Massey is the product development manager at Prairie Farms, a farmer-owned cooperative based in Edwardsville, Illinois. She is responsible for overseeing all aspects of the development process, from concept to commercialization. Erin grew up on a Florida dairy farm and has a deep-rooted passion to invigorate the dairy industry. Erin earned a bachelor's degree in chemical engineering from the University of South Florida. Her personal mantra is "Be Bold."

Join us on June 10 for our next webinar:

"Synchronization strategies for heifers" presented by Joe Dalton, University of Idaho

Heifers do not provide a return on investment until after entering the milking string. New synchronization strategies have been developed to enhance reproduction in heifers. These concepts aid dairy producers in optimizing age at conception and age at first calving goals while limiting feed costs. Sign up here.