WOOSTER, Ohio — During her last semester at Ohio State University, Eileen Gress ran into a fellow student who shared similar interests in the dairy industry as she did.
“She told me a story about how her and her brother attended this dairy event where they learned how to give injections by using an orange,” said Gress.
She told Gress that her brother had been afraid to administer injections to their own animals until he was able to try it out during this demonstration. Now he gives them regularly.
Gress asked what event she was referring to and she replied, “DairyPalooza.”
“What are the chances,” Gress had thought to herself. “I organize that event,” she had told the young woman.
In that instance, Gress saw the outcome of someone walking away from the event with a positive experience and a new life skill.
The idea for DairyPalooza was formed amongst a group of 4-H dairy advisers in Ohio who felt there was a gap in what dairy youth could access to further their development in the industry.
They can attend state events like Dairy Quiz Bowl and dairy judging, but other than that, there wasn’t much in between, explained Gress, who develops media materials and helps coordinate the event schedules.
“We wanted a program to get more kids involved, kids that didn’t go to the state fair. Kids that don’t come from a dairy background and have less exposure to the dairy world,” said Bonnie
Ayars, dairy program specialist for Ohio State University and co-founder of DairyPalooza.
In 2011, the first DairyPalooza event was held at Grammer Jersey Farm in Mahoning County. It was an all day, “kind of informal event,” explained Gress.
Children were shown the showmanship basics — how to fit a cow or calf for a show, even how to create a bedding pack and keep it clean during the week of the fair. Everything was demonstrated with live animals.
“We wanted a hands-on, authentic experience for the kids,” said Ayars. “We had families bring in their show herds and show how they prep them for the fair.”
Around 50 children attended and learned the basics of showing and caring for a dairy animal, and many expressed their positive feedback to the DairyPalooza staff. “We couldn’t believe the turnout for the first event,” said Ayars.
“We realized it could be so much more,” said Gress.
Moving forward, DairyPalooza coordinators began to think of ways to incorporate all ages and experiences, from beginners to advanced showman, as well as cloverbuds and parents.
Programs expanded to include cow nutrition and health, people nutrition, breeding and pedigrees, biosecurity and even career opportunities in the dairy industry. A career fair was developed for the older 4-H members to ask questions about furthering their interests in the dairy industry.
“Three years ago we added quality assurance to the program,” said Ayars, which involves hands-on demonstrations that cover three topics chosen by Ohio 4-H each year.
This portion of the event fulfills the 4-H youth’s quality assurance requirement that they might normally partake in during a skill-a-thon.
The next two years, the event would be held at the Wayne County Fairgrounds in Wooster, Ohio, and it continued to grow.
“In 2014, we saw over 350 people and thought that was just astonishing,” said Gress.
But the coordinators felt limiting themselves to a northeastern Ohio location limited the accessibility to dairy communities across the state. In 2015, DairyPalooza grew to two events, DairyPalooza Northeast and DairyPalooza West. A majority of Ohio dairies are located in northeast Ohio, but there is a large sector of dairies in western Ohio — Auglaize and Shelby counties, explained Ayars.
“We had a lot of interest,” for that first event.
“When the program was introduced in the west, no one over there really had any idea what it was,” said Gress.
The first DairyPalooza West event was held at the Auglaize County Fairgrounds and featured some of the basics in showing and prepping dairy cattle for the fair. Gress feels it will continue to grow.
Between both the Northeast and West events, DairyPalooza had an attendance of 600 people — including 4-H youth, cloverbuds and adults.
DairyPalooza Northeast was held at the Trumbull County fairgrounds and is coordinated by Richard and Debbie Owens. It’s a lot of work preparing for the event from January until the event is held (in late April or early May). “It’s pretty much a full-time job for my husband and I,” said Debbie.
From lining up presenters, to deciding where presentations will take place and gathering donations to make it all happen, Debbie has her hands full. But she says the dairy community has been very supportive through it all.
For the 2015 event, between northeast Ohio businesses, local dairies and supporters, DairyPalooza raised $9,000 to support the program. That money was used to pay for program materials and freebies for the children to take home. Ayars said she has also applied for grants over the years to fund educational materials and to be able to hold DairyPalooza in two locations.
“I think [DairyPalooza] opens up a lot of opportunities in education. Even kids that don’t have animals,” said Debbie.
Elijah Dobay attended the first DairyPalooza event when he was 16 years old. While his family did not raise cattle of their own, Dobay helped out at a local dairy near his home in Trumbull County and was able to show dairy cattle from that farm.
Dobay said his 4-H adviser had suggested 4-H members attend the upcoming DairyPalooza the year it was introduced. “I always found the demonstrations interesting,” he said, from setting up a fair display, to fitting and washing and showmanship techniques.
Now Dobay serves as a presenter at DairyPalooza, showing 4-H youth how to clip their animals and get them ready for the show.
“It was kind of what interested me,” said Dobay. “I just try to tell the kids everything I know and everything that I would want to know if I was them.”
Gress said she has received a lot of positive feedback through Facebook messages from grateful parents and participants of DairyPalooza thanking the staff for putting on the event for the children.
“I spend a lot of time popping in and out of presentations, and I learn new stuff every year so I know the kids are going to learn a ton,” she said.
“There is so much for the kids to be involved in,” said Ayars, who said as they plan out the 2016 program she wants to incorporate a type of dairy challenge to encourage youth to use what they learned that day.
While the 2016 event is still in the planning stages, updates can be found at ohiodairypalooza.com.