Jan. 23 2023 08:00 AM

A trip with my peers showed me that the dairy industry in California is a whole other world compared to what I am used to.

Just a couple of weeks ago, I was fortunate enough to hop on a plane that took me away from the endless Midwestern blizzards for 10 days. As a senior in the Gopher Dairy Club on the University of Minnesota campus, it was finally my time for the annual senior reward trip for completing all my membership requirements. I’ve been looking forward to this trip for several years, and it did not disappoint! I had an incredible time gaining experiences with friends, and I learned a lot about how California remains a top dairy state in the country.

My fellow seniors and I were able to see and experience nearly every style of dairy farming there is. We visited dairies with crossbred cows, purebred Holstein and Jerseys, and many different parlors such as parallel, walk through, herringbone, and a rotary. We even watched Lely and DeLeval robots work constantly to milk thousands of cows. I loved experiencing such a wide variety of management systems, proving what I have slowly learned throughout my time in the industry: There is no one perfect way to be successful. Right before my eyes, I saw dozens upon dozens of ways to make a living with dairy cows.

The thing that surprised me the most is that California winters are no joke. The cold may be nowhere near as bitter or extreme, but the rains that can come during these months have the potential to make things quite difficult. Granted, I learned from local farmers that the recent rains have been record breaking, and most winters are not this extreme.

The Central Valley of California is one of the richest agricultural areas in the country and possibly in the whole world. My friends and I even played a game to guess what kind of tree we were driving by because there were so many! We saw all kinds of producing trees, including almond, peach, pistachio, and more. Seeing this relatively small area feed so much of the world was incredibly inspiring to me, but one characteristic I will remember the most is the determination and scrappiness of these farmers.

As many know, California often struggles with drought, especially through the summer. Despite this, I saw thousands upon thousands of cows that remained healthy and produced milk. Many of the traditional feed components must be bought and transported into the area, so when times get tough, other alternatives are found to ensure the cows are fed. The dairies I visited helped me realize how much effort is put into something as basic as providing drinking water for the cattle, and I will forever admire them for how efficiently and sustainably they provide milk for others.

Despite the positive experience I had on this trip, I’ll always be a Wisconsin girl at heart. However, don’t be surprised if you find me tasting the delightful wines in Napa Valley once again someday! Thank you to all the farmers that hosted our dairy club!

Mikayla Peper

Mikayla grew up near Osceola, Wis. She discovered her passion for the dairy industry while working on her neighbors’ Holstein dairy farm. That spurred her involvement in 4-H and FFA, and following graduation from Osceola High School, she headed to the University of Minnesota to pursue a degree in agricultural communication and marketing. During the school year, she worked as a website designer for the University of Minnesota department of animal science, and last summer, she was a farmer relations intern for Midwest Dairy. Peper served as the 2022 Hoard’s Dairyman editorial intern.