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National 4-H Dairy Conference

4-H dairy projects have been an integral part of 4-H across the entire nation, reflecting the importance of the dairy industry to the agricultural economy. The National 4-H Dairy Conference began in Chicago, Illinois in 1955 for the purpose of career exploration and for networking with leaders from all aspects of the industry.

However for three or more decades prior to the Dairy Conference, 4-H dairy judging teams had been attending the Dairy Cattle Congress in Waterloo, Iowa. An article in the September 1932 issue of National Boys and Girls Club News reports that 13 states sent judging and demonstrations to the 4-H contests at the Dairy Cattle Congress that year. The Wisconsin team won in annual judging, and Minnesota and Nebraska won the demonstrations. 4-H teams had also been attending a Dairy Show in St. Louis which was not held in 1932. Records do not show whether the St. Louis Show was later revived, or whether teams continue to go to the Waterloo show.

For our purposes, the National 4-H Dairy Conference as we have known it, started in 1955 in Chicago.

The December 1955 National 4-H News carried a feature on that first Chicago conference giving a rather thorough accounting of the program presented:

"Eighty-five outstanding 4-H dairy members took an `off-the-farm' look at the dairy industry during the First Annual 4-H Dairy Conference and Tour in Chicago, October 7-11 (1955).

"The 4-H'ers, representing 10 states, came to the conference to further their education in the production, processing, marketing and use of dairy products, and to receive guidance in considering the industry as a vocation.

"They spent a busy four days listening to outstanding speakers, touring processing plants and the International Dairy Show, with time out for group discussions and relaxation.

"The 4-H'ers sat wide-eyed as they heard that one man should be able to manage, feed and milk 100 cows in an eight-hour day. Dr. W. E. Peterson, Professor of Dairy Husbandry at the University of Minnesota, told the young dairymen that dairying lends itself to mechanization and it needs to be done.

"`Treat the herd as a unit rather than as individual cows, except at milking time,' he said. `House them in open sheds, self-feed hay, convey silage by machine, and milk in a milking parlor.'

"Dr. Peterson urged the delegates to work for more production. `We should at least double the pounds of milk we produce per acre of land used and per man-year labor,' he said. He pointed out that the average U.S. production per cow is `shamefully' low at 200 pounds of butterfat per year, and `there is no excuse for keeping a cow that produces less than 400 pounds per year, or less than 10,000 pounds of milk.'

"Paul Johnson, editor of PRAIRIE FARMER, also urged the delegates to further mechanize dairying.

"Both speakers conceded that we have the `know-how' to do the job, but lack broad application of the methods.

"The delegates looked at current problems of the dairy industry too. E. M. Norton, Secretary of the National Milk Producers Federation, said the major problem of the dairy farmer is lack of bargaining power. As a result, they are in a cost-price squeeze which has destroyed their purchasing power.

"He pointed out that legislation has provided a healthy atmosphere for the cooperative movement, a respected and effective method of solving their complex marketing problems.

"A second big job in the industry is providing the services demanded by the market. Solving the problems must take into account the constant changes of the industry, and the perishable nature of the commodity. As an example of progress, Norton cited packaging improvements which have meant wider areas of distribution and more competition.

"He urged the delegates to recognize the importance of efficient production and to assume an active role in helping to solve problems of the industry.

"Charles B. Shuman, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation, told the 4-H'ers the dairy industry is demonstrating it can solve many of its own problems through further plans for expanding consumption.

"Promotional programs are being financed by the dairy industry itself, and since revision of the level of price supports by the Secretary of Agriculture in 1954, the industry has reduced the surplus. at the same time, farmers are gradually getting increased income from greater efficiency.

"Shuman said young people can look forward to a future in dairying with considerable confidence, `if you succeed in taking farm pricing out of the political arena.' Consumers will pay fair prices for good quality food, he said, and in the long run, farmers' incomes will be higher when they produce for the consumers than when they produce for government storage.

"The club members learned that the doors of the dairy industry are open wide for competent young people looking for an interesting vocation in an expanding field.

"A panel composed of representatives from many fields, discussed job opportunities. Among possible vocations were: dairy farming and breeding; research; home economics; college teaching and administration; agricultural Extension work; sales; advertising; processing; manufacturing; and breed representatives. In all cases the panel members urged the delegates to further their education.

"Dr Paul Tracy, professor of dairy technology at the University of Illinois, told about the new looks and products in dairy processing. He said the nature of consumer demand is changing. The public is much more diet conscious, and this means more attention is being given to the nonfat portion of milk, which in turn has made it necessary to market new products.

"On their tours, the club members visited the Borden milk and ice cream plants, the Beatrice Food Co. butter plant, and the International Dairy Show.

"While at the Dairy Show, they observed the 4-H dairy animal judging and visited with representatives of the six dairy breed associations.

"They took time out from the busy schedule to see the World's Championship Rodeo, `Cinerama Holiday,' and the Museum of Science and Industry.

"Marlowe B. Nelson, Extension dairyman at the University of Wisconsin, and chairman of the conference evaluation committee, reported that objectives of the conference were met with success. With the experience gained and with suggested improvements, future conferences should be even more rewarding to delegates.

"Plans are underway for a 1956 conference with wider participation. The conference was conducted by the Cooperative Extension Service, the National Committee on Boys and Girls Club Work, International Dairy Show, and other organizations interested in youth and the dairy industry."

National 4-H News carried another feature on the second Annual 4-H Dairy Conference in the December 1956 issue:

"Production, marketing, processing and careers were top business when 115 top 4-H'ers met in Chicago for the second Annual 4-H Dairy Conference in October 1956.

"The delegates, representing 15 states and 140,000 dairy members, were chosen on the basis of achievement in their dairy projects and the conference offered further education, inspiration, and vocational guidance within the industry.

"For example, W. D. Knox, editor of HOARD'S DAIRYMAN, urged these future dairy men and women to fully develop every potential of education so the dairy industry would have leadership capable of dealing with critical national issues. Speaking at a breakfast given by the American Dairy Association, he said that dairying is no longer a way of life but a highly scientific business.

"`My experiences as 1955 American Dairy Princess' was the subject of an interesting talk given by Ruth Marie Peterson, at the Saddle & Sirloin Club. Lovely state dairy princesses graced the tables at this luncheon given by Pure Milk Association, International Dairy Show, American Dairy Association, and the Chicago DAILY NEWS.

"D. H. Van Pelt, Hals & Hunter Co., said that good cows, good management, and proper feeding, means a profitable market. He talked on `Problems in Marketing Dairy Products' at the Foundation for American Agriculture breakfast.

"Delegates then saw application of sound processing and distribution methods via tours to the Borden Co. milk plant and the Beatrice Foods Co. butter plant.

"The final day was devoted to the real thing - cows! After the morning visiting the International Dairy Show, delegates were luncheon guests of the Purebred Dairy Cattle Assoc., and heard Dr. Gordon Cairns, dean of Agriculture, University of Maryland, discuss `The Role of Purebreds in the Dairy Cattle Industry.'

"But the conference wasn't all work - not when Jim Hayes, professor emeritus, M.S.U., demonstrated how he would `streamline the cow,' at a wide-awake early Sunday morning breakfast given by Allied Mills, Inc.

"Delegates also attended the WLS Barn Dance, Cinerama Holiday and a rodeo; visited the Museum of Science and Industry and other places in Chicago; and heard an inspiring sermon by Dr. Kenneth Hildebrand, Central Church.

"Statistics showed the average delegate to be 18 years old with eight years in 4-H and six in dairy. He owns 13 dairy animals and the average of the best cow owned by each is 12,140 pounds of milk and 505 pounds of butterfat. The young dairy enthusiasts were accompanied to Chicago by 20 adult leaders, mostly Extension workers.

"The conference, held in conjunction with the National Dairy Show, was sponsored by the Extension Service and National Committee on Boys & Girls Club Work.

"On the 4-H Dairy Conference Committee were: J. C. Ralston, chairman, Indiana assoc. in 4-H club work; Marlowe Nelson, Extension dairyman, Wisconsin; Mylo Downey, Federal 4-H staff, Washington D.C.; Frank Mynard, Illinois specialist in 4-H Club work; Robert Stewart, American Guernsey Club; E. J. F. Young, International Dairy Show; and Leon McNair, National Committee on Boys & Girls Club Work."

The National Committee COMMENTS, the newsletter of the National Committee on Boys and Girls Club Work, reported on the 4th annual dairy conference (October 6-9, 1958) in their November 1958 issue. Held in conjunction with the International Dairy Show, the meeting was attended by more than 130 4-H members and 33 leaders from 22 states. Also registered were two young dairy farmers from Canada, one from Mexico, and one from Portugal.

The 4-H delegates discussed whether a college education is necessary for success in dairying or other agricultural careers; if high milk prices actually encourage greater production; and what are the future trends in the dairy industry.

Several groups cooperated with the Extension Service, International Dairy Show and the National Committee on Boys and Girls Club Work in sponsoring the conference. Hosts included the American Dairy Association; Purebred Dairy Cattle Association and the six major dairy cattle breed associations; Oliver Corporation, donor of awards in the national 4-H Dairy program; Sears-Roebuck Foundation; Borden Company; Allied Mills, Inc.; Beatrice Foods Company; and the d-Con Company.

The April 1965 issue of National 4-H Service Committee COMMENTS announced that more than 175 delegates and leaders participated in the three-day 4-H Dairy Conference, Dec. 3-5, 1964. Held at the time of the International Dairy Show, events were scheduled at the International Amphitheater and The Conrad Hilton Hotel.

The group viewed the dairy show exhibits, judging and worked with representatives of the dairy breed associations. They discussed career opportunities, farm financing, took part in a dairy marketing clinic, attended banquets and climaxed their Chicago visit sight-seeing and shopping.

Among the Friends of 4-H who assisted with the 1964 program were: Allied Mills, American Breeders Service, American Dairy Association, breed associations - Ayrshire, Brown Swiss, Guernsey, Jersey, Holstein-Fresian and Milking Shorthorn - Beatrice Foods, Deere and Co., Hoard's Dairyman, International Dairy Show, National Milk Producers', Oliver Corporation, Purebred Dairy Cattle Association, Pure Milk Association, Prudential Life Insurance Company and Ralston Purina Company.

For the following year, 1966, reports document that among the speakers who addressed the young dairymen during the three-day conference were: Robert H. Rumler, executive secretary of The Holstein Friesian Association; William G. Karnes, president, Beatrice Foods Company; F. E. Christen, coordinator of sales, Allied Mills, Inc.; Henry Shriver, farm philosopher-lecturer; W. F. Johnstone, dairy marketing specialist, Pennsylvania State University; Fred Buschner, regional sales manager, American Breeders Services, Samuel White, Jr., president, Oliver Corporation; and Orion Samuelson, farm service director, WGN & WGN-TV, Chicago. Richard J. Cech, senior vice president, Marsteller Incorporated, moderated a forum on careers in the dairy industry. Carol Ann Armacost, reigning American Dairy Princess and a Maryland 4-H member, related her experiences as America's 1966-67 dairy princess. In addition, the 4-H'ers enjoyed the horse show and rodeo at the International Amphitheater, visited Don McNeill's Breakfast Club, and toured Chicago, participating in several recreational events.

The 1969 15th annual 4-H Dairy Conference was held on December 4-6 in Chicago at the Conrad Hilton Hotel, coinciding with the International Dairy Show at the International Amphitheatre. Representatives from 29 states attended. One of the highlights was the Friday luncheon at the famous Saddle and Sirloin Club Ballroom of the Stock Yard Inn. Hosted by the Purebred Dairy Cattle Association, Dr. R. Dean Plowman, chief of the dairy cattle research branch, Animal Husbandry Research Division, Agricultural Research Service, USDA at Beltsville, Maryland, was the principal speaker.

In 1970, the National 4-H Dairy Conference moved to Madison, Wisconsin. The event, formerly held at the time of the International Dairy Show in Chicago in late November and early December, moved to the World Dairy Expo in Madison. As reported in the Spring 1970 National 4-H Service Committee COMMENTS, "in 1970 the World Dairy Expo will stage its fourth annual exhibition in October in the new Dane County Exposition Center. In addition to the dairy cattle show, the exhibition includes displays of dairy foods and dairy farm equipment, home economics demonstrations and a variety of entertainment, sponsored as a not-for-profit show by a group of private citizens. The International Live Stock Exposition announced in mid-April that they had decided to discontinue the dairy and horse shows and cut the exposition to six days. The International will continue to offer competition for beef cattle, hogs and sheep, with a rodeo replacing the horse show as the featured entertainment attraction."

The event remained strong with the Chicago to Madison move. Some 149 delegates and 31 chaperons from 24 states participated in 1970: Connecticut, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia and Wisconsin.

Jane Elizabeth Logan, 1970-1971 American Dairy Princess, was a featured guest. Sunday's program opened with a brunch and program hosted by Allied Mills, Inc. E. B. Hubka, Jr., director of public relations, was the principal speaker. A 4-H dairy marketing clinic followed brunch. In the evening a dinner and program, hosted by Southland Corporation, entertained the delegates and chaperons. The program featured a forum on "Careers in the Dairy Industry."

On Monday, the American Breeders' Service, Incorporated, hosted breakfast at the Lake Windsor Country Club, followed by a tour of ABS facilities. The Monday luncheon was hosted by the various purebred dairy cattle associations. James F. Pound, representing the Purebred Dairy Cattle Association, talked about "New Tools for Breed Improvement." After lunch the delegates had a guided tour of the World Dairy Expo and observed the cattle judging. An invitational 4-H Dairy Cattle Judging Contest featured 20 teams. The final banquet was held Monday evening hosted by Land O'Lakes, Inc.

The 1974 4-H Dairy Conference hit a milestone - it's 20th anniversary. It was considered an important 4-H national event by many states. Some 155 delegates and 30 chaperons from 22 states participated in 1974. The conference continued to be conducted by the Cooperative Extension Service in cooperation with the National 4-H Service Committee, the World Dairy Expo and other organizations interested in youth and the dairy industry... which had now grown to an impressive list: Allied Mills, Inc.; American Breeders Service, Inc.; American Dairy Association of Wisconsin; American Guernsey Cattle Club, American Jersey Cattle Club; Associated Milk Producers, Inc; Ayrshire Breeders' Association; Brown Swiss Cattle Breeders' Association; Carnation Company; Hoard's Dairyman; Holstein-Friesian Association of America; Insurance Company of North America; Land O'Lakes, Inc.; Mid-America Dairyman, Inc.; Milk Industry Foundation; National Milk Producers' Foundation; Purebred Dairy Cattle Association; and the University of Wisconsin.

The National 4-H Council COURIER newsletter reports that Madison was again the site of the 24th annual 4-H Dairy Conference on October 3-6, 1978, being held in conjunction with the World Dairy Expo. The event hosted 225 4-H dairy project members from 26 states. Included on the program was a talk by Olympic track and field star, Jesse Owens. Special programs were: dairy promotion, money-making dairy decisions, and a look at careers in the dairy industry; tours of American Breeders Service and Hoard's Dairyman; and viewing the World Dairy Expo exhibits.

The Dairy Conference event continued to garner an impressive list of sponsors including the Cooperative Extension Service; American Breeding Service, Inc.; American Dairy Association of Wisconsin; American Guernsey Cattle Club; American Jersey Cattle Club; American Milking Shorthorn Society; Associated Milk Producers, Inc.; Ayrshire Breeders' Association; Brown Swiss Cattle Breeders' Association; Cargill Nutrena Feeds; Carnation Company; The DeLaval Separator Company; Hoard's Dairyman; Holstein-Friesian Association of America; Land O'Lakes, Inc.; Mid-America Dairyman, Inc.; Milk Industry Foundation; National Milk Producers' Foundation; Purebred Dairy Cattle Association; United Dairy Industry Association; University of Wisconsin; World Dairy Expo and Lincoln-Mercury Division, Ford Motor Company.

The National 4-H Dairy Judging Contest also was held at the 1978 Expo. Thirty-eight states sent teams with Maryland placing first and Pennsylvania second.

1979 marked the silver anniversary of the Annual 4-H Dairy Conference. Involving teen leaders in sessions conducted by Extension dairy specialists and dairy industry leaders from across the country, the 1979 conference also recognized alumni and educator participants in a special celebration. Former Secretary of Agriculture Earl Butz keynoted the observance. A special silver anniversary banquet honoring alumni from each year of the Conference and an address by former 4-H member, Kansas Governor John Carlin, was featured. Other silver anniversary conference speakers included Gene Flynn, first vice president, Mid-America Dairymen, Inc.; W. B. Knox, president, Hoard's Dairyman; Irvin Elkins, president, Associated Milk Producers, Inc.; John Brookman, director of communications, United Dairy Industry Association; and Glenn H. Lake, President, UDIA. Dr. Fred Pardue, professor of dairy science at Clemson University, chaired the program committee for the event. Insurance Company of North America, sponsor of the National 4-H Dairy Awards program, joined other members of the dairy industry in providing support to enhance the Conference.

More than 200 young people from 24 states and four Canadian provinces participated in the 26th Annual 4-H Dairy Conference, September 30-October 3, 1980 in Madison, Wisconsin. Delegates toured Hoard's Dairyman and American Breeders Service, Inc., and visited World Dairy Expo, in addition to attending the educational sessions. A special workshop sponsored by Insurance Company of North America was conducted on dairy farm money-making decisions. Breed associations and companies serving the dairy industry hosted numerous events.

The 1980 National 4-H Dairy Cattle Judging Contest was held on October 1 at the World Dairy Expo in Madison. Over 150 4-H'ers from 37 state teams competed for high honors. Two individual award went to Jenny Cheek, Chapel Hill, North Carolina. She received a $500 scholarship. Michigan took top team honors in the event.

Charlie Plumb, journalist and former Vietnam Prisoner of War, was the guest speaker at the 27th Annual National 4-H Dairy Conference, September 29-October 2, 1981 in Madison, Wisconsin. Approximately 240 delegates from 24 states and six Canadian provinces participated. Delegates attended workshops and sessions on such topics as dairy marketing, dairy farming in other countries and careers in the industry. Participants to the conference were selected on the basis of their achievements in 4-H dairy projects in the national 4-H dairy program, sponsored by Insurance Company of North America. INA also supported the conference. More than 140 4-H'ers from 37 states participated in the National 4-H Dairy Cattle Judging Contest, September 29-30, at the World Dairy Expo in Madison. The top five state teams were Kentucky, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Oregon and Illinois.

4-H members from 26 states and six Canadian provinces participated in the 1983 National 4-H Dairy Conference on October 4-7 in Madison, Wisconsin. more than 200 4-H'ers, all enrolled in dairy projects, learned about many aspects of dairying, including production, marketing, promotion and nutrition during the four day event. Workshops focused on uses of computers in farming, farm management and financial planning as well as group dynamics and interpersonal relationships. Charlie Plumb, a former 4-H'er, who spent nearly six years as a prisoner of war in Vietnam, gave the keynote address. His appearance and the computer workshops were sponsored by CIGNA Corporation, sponsor of the national 4-H dairy awards program. During the same week in Madison, 140 4-H'ers participated in the annual national 4-H dairy judging contest. Awards to members and the coach of the high team in overall judging breeds also was supported by CIGNA Corporation.

The Fall 1987 National 4-H Council Quarterly carried a multi-page feature on the Dairy Conference:

Dairy Conference Attendees Learn Latest on Industry

"Over 200 4-H members and adult advisors travelled to Madison, Wisconsin for the 1987 National 4-H Dairy Conference, September 28-October 1. Delegates from 21 states and 5 Canadian provinces attended workshops, toured dairy-related businesses and met with donor host representatives - key aspects of the program designed to increase youth awareness and understanding of the dairy industry.

"Seminars included informative presentations on recent dairy science advances and genetic futures for 4-H projects. In these meetings with academic and business dairy specialists, 4-H'ers gained up-to-date information on artificial insemination, embryo transfer and genetic breeding possibilities. Other seminars covered dairy marketing and business concerns. Dr. Dave Dickson, chairman, Department of Dairy Science, University of Wisconsin, stimulated thinking among the delegates in his discussion of dairy science job opportunities and dairy industry economic problems and solutions.

"The delegates were challenged with hands-on experience during the Dairy Skill-A-Thon. Skill stations simulated milking techniques, tested 4-H members' knowledge of dairy equipment and terminology and gave them valuable ideas for dairy education to take back home. Specially designed stuffed animals gave delegates the opportunity to practice techniques of calf birth and dehorning.

"The conference moved to the expansive Wisconsin farmlands for highly informative tours. American Breeders Service hosted a breakfast and tour of its high-technology barns. Hoard's Dairyman, the well-known dairy publication, hosted lunch and a tour of Hoard's working dairy farm. Hoard's Dairyman associate editor Ewing Row personally conducted a tour of the magazine's printing and editorial operations. Other educational field trips involved a look at a working meat processing plant and the catalogue order and `biological merchandise' operations of NASCO International, Inc.

"A highlight of the three days was the afternoon at World Dairy Expo, held each year in Madison concurrently with the 4-H Dairy Conference. Delegates arrived at Expo in time for the Brown Swiss Heifer Judging and the embryo auction.

"Cooperating Friends of 4-H Dairy Conference sponsored meals and speakers, enabling youth interested in the dairy industry to hear and speak with business representatives. Sponsors of the 1987 Dairy Conference were: Alfa Laval, Inc.; American Breeders Service; Associated Milk Producers, Inc.; Cargill, Inc.; Carnation Company; Cass Clay Creamery, Inc.; Dairylea Cooperative, Inc.; Hoard's Dairyman; Land O'Lakes, Inc.; Mid-America Dairymen, Inc.; Milk Marketing, Inc.; NASCO International, Inc.; Outagamie Producers Cooperative; Purebred Dairy Cattle Association; Swiss Valley Farms, Co.; 21st Century Genetics; United Dairy Industry Association; Valley of Virginia Cooperative Milk Producers Association; Wisconsin Cheeseman; and World Dairy Expo."

The history of the National 4-H Dairy Conference for the last 20 years has not been located, nor documented. (We need your help.)

Contemporary History

The annual National 4-H Dairy Conference - now well over 50 years old - continues to be a major national 4-H event. It is held each autumn in conjunction with the World Dairy Expo in Madison, Wisconsin. About 200 youth from 4-H dairy projects around the U.S. and Canada attend. Attendees must have participated in the 4-H dairy project for at least three years including the current year; be at least 15 but not more than 18 years of age before January 1 of the current year; have outstanding records in 4-H Dairy accomplishments; and abilities and talents which will enable them to make a real contribution to the conference; have an interest in the production, marketing, processing and use of dairy products; are capable of bringing the inspiration and information back to their state and passing it on to others; have not attended the National 4-H Dairy Conference more than two years; and, are not exhibiting dairy animals at this year's World Dairy Expo or participating in this year's National 4-H Dairy Cattle Judging Contest.

The stated purpose of the National 4-H Dairy Conference is to:

  • provide a means by which various individuals and groups interested in the dairy industry and youth can cooperate to achieve educational objectives based on the developmental needs of youth;
  • promote and sponsor an educational program which will provide a better understanding of the operations involved in the production, processing, marketing and use of dairy products, as well as related areas; and
  • provide a broader understanding of careers available in dairy production, processing, marketing and other selected areas.

The four-day experience exposes 4-H members to new dairy science technology and dairy-related careers. Through a combination of workshops, speakers, educational field trips and networking with other dairy-oriented youth, 4-H members gain information they can use to strengthen their futures in the dairy industry. Hands-on learning workshop topics include biotechnology, genetics, food evaluation, animal nutrition and marketing.

4-H is the youth education program of the Cooperative Extension System in the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Land-Grant Colleges and Universities. National 4-H Dairy Conference is sponsored by the University of Wisconsin-Extension. For additional information visit the National 4-H Dairy Conference website at:

Compiled by National 4-H History Preservation Team.

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