Enhancing the Sustainability of Dairy Grazing Apprenticeship Through Educator and Farmer Mentor Professional Development

Progress report for ENC20-195

Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 2020: $84,750.00
Projected End Date: 09/30/2024
Grant Recipient: Dairy Grazing Apprenticeship
Region: North Central
State: Wisconsin
Project Coordinator:
Angela Sullivan
Dairy Grazing Apprenticeship
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Project Information


Managed grazing is a sustainable method by which farmers can produce high quality food and many ecosystem services. The overall goal of this project is to better equip a targeted group of educators and farmers associated with Dairy Grazing Apprenticeship (DGA) to train the next generation of dairy farmers, focusing on sustainable farming practices including managed grazing. The overall effectiveness of DGA hinges largely on the knowledge and abilities of these outlying Education Coordinators and Masters.

Outcomes of the project include:

  • Improved educational and mentoring skills for Education Coordinators and Master Graziers (a.k.a. Masters), who are critical within DGA and more broadly in training this next generation of grazing dairy farmers.
  • Increased knowledge of grazing dairy systems for Education Coordinators and Masters, including the diversity of practices that can lead to a successful operation.
  • All of which will lead to improved morale for the industry, increasing number of grazing dairy farms, and improved sustainability (environmental and economic) of the overall dairy industry.

Activities will include:

  • An annual Education Coordinator seminar where all DGA Education Coordinators come together at a central location once per year to gain skills related to administering DGA, networking, visiting farms and learning skills relevant to successful dairy grazing.
  • An annual Master Grazier Summit, where DGA Masters will gather to learn from experts in the field, network with others that are mentoring Apprentices, further plans with Education Coordinators and DGA staff.
  • Virtual learning opportunities for Education Coordinators, Masters and DGA Apprentices.
Project Objectives:


The network of regional DGA Education Coordinators currently spans the North Central and Northeast U.S. regions. The partnership between these Education Coordinators and DGA staff is critical to the success of the organization and mission. The annual seminars proposed in this project will provide an extremely valuable opportunity for these individuals to gather at a common location to network, share strategies, improve common curriculum, and inspire everyone to conduct excellent work on behalf of DGA.

The partnerships between Education Coordinators and Masters is equally important to the mission of DGA. The opportunities for networking and learning at Master Summits and Virtual Roundtables allows these groups to interface and learn together. 

Target Audience

An important product of the proposed activities will be participation in meetings and events. In particular, anticipated attendance at Education Coordinator Seminars and Education Coordinator Virtual Meetings will be approximately 20 total individuals (15 Education Coordinators and 5 DGA Staff). These same 20 individuals (subject to change with position turnover or expansion of program) would have recurring participation in the activities focused on them.

The in-person attendance goal for each of the Master Summits is 30 grazing dairy farmers for each event. Furthermore, we would expect an additional 10 DGA staff and/or Education Coordinators and up to 30 Apprentice candidates at each of these Summits. An additional 30-50 DGA Masters and Apprentices would be expected to participate virtually. Public participation will be encouraged for a portion of the summit, and attendance will likely vary regionally.

The attendance goal for the Virtual Roundtables is 30 live participants for each session. In addition, recordings of each Roundtable will be made available online, which we would expect to have a long-lasting impact with the potential for dozens if not hundreds of views in the three years following the live event. These recorded roundtables are a key educational output from this PDP, as the information will be a very useful and impactful mix between scientific based recommendations and on the ground farmer logistics and observations.


Improvements and additions to existing DGA curriculum and other educational materials will be continuously updated during the course of this project. This includes the DGA Training Manual and other print/online resources available to Education Coordinators, Masters and Apprentices, as well as the online courses offered through the Managed Grazing Innovation Center. The proposed events will provide key opportunities to gather feedback from Education Coordinators and Masters about the educational materials, which can continuously be updated to improve the experience for the mentors and Apprentices.


Click linked name(s) to expand/collapse or show everyone's info
  • Joseph Heckman
  • Allen Williams
  • Robert Milligan
  • Diane Mayerfeld
  • Ian Gallagher
  • Altfrid Krusenbaum


Educational approach:

Please see section below for full explanation of the event/programming related to this project.

Education & Outreach Initiatives

Annual Education Coordinator Retreat

Improve educational and mentoring skills for 12 education coordinators in our 15-state network.


DGA held a two and a half-day, in-person Education Coordinator Retreat on the campus of Michigan State University. Seven (7) ECs attended in-person from WI, MN, MI, PA, VT, OH, MO and five (5) attended virtually, through Zoom from WI, MN, ME, PA. Three DGA staff were also in attendance. 

The pre-planned two-day Mentor Summit that was to be held prior to the EC Retreat was cancelled due to lack of RSVPs from Mentor farmers. DGA attributed this to the high cost of flights and gas and to the economic state of the dairy industry. It was difficult for Mentors to not only travel, but to be away from the farm and hire additional labor. We plan to offer the Mentor Summit ahead of the EC Retreat in 2023 in Minnesota and hope for a better turn out.

The first day of the EC Retreat included two (2) farm tours on DGA Mentor farms (photos included). Michigan State University farm was a great tour that focused on grass-based dairy using robotic milkers. Farm Manager, Harold Straub gave a tour of the pastures and demonstrated how their two robotic milking systems worked in their system and how it affected labor costs.  The second farm tour on Mentor Tom Cook's farm was a great chance for our ECs to talk through the current economics of the grazing dairy industry with Tom being very open about his current financials and decisions he was wrestling with on the farm. 

These interactions are very educational for our ECs from different regions to see how their Mentor farmers compare not only in their practices, but in the struggles they are facing especially as it pertains to labor and opportunities for Apprentices on these farms and how they can offset some of the labor costs.

Day two of the event was concentrated on EC education, recruiting discussion, Mentor resource offerings/discussion, technical assistance provided to each other based on how they manage their program in their states and general DGA discussion re: feedback on improvements needed and suggestions for new programming. This time for ECs to be together and discuss how they manage their regions/Apprentices/Mentors is critical to the success of the program. As farmers learn best from other farmers, our ECs learn best from each other and the feedback we receive backs up that notion. Time and again, our ECs say this is the most valuable time for them to relate/connect with others who are doing the same type of work and how they benefit from the shared knowledge. (evaluation data included)

ECs did deep work on their specific Mentor co-hort to identify Mentors who have not hired an Apprentice and workshopped with ideas on how to get Apprentices on those farms and programs that could assist the Mentors in labor costs. They also identified any Mentors who could serve at subject matter experts in our related instruction classes on the new Learning Management System recently added to our DGA platform.

ECs also dug into the topic of recruitment of both Mentors/Apprentices for the program and how our current application system could be modified to narrow down personality types (to make matching easier), management style and more specific instructions for both Mentors/Apprentices to fully understand the commitment required to be part of the program. Many of those suggested improvements are being implemented now.

ECs identified the top five (5) resources they feel are most important to their Mentors so we can add classes/webinars in these areas to our LMS platform for Mentors to access, free of charge. Those five topics are: 1. Access to peer networks, farmer to farmer opportunities, networking; 2. estate planning, transition/succession planning; 3. financial management, cash flow planning, farm financials; 4. communication skills, leadership skills, employee management; 5. teaching skills, mentoring skills, people skills. ECs created a 10 question survey to be sent to Mentors to test whether the five topics they identified are in fact, the topics our Mentors are interested in learning more about.

There was a discussion on improvements needed, based on feedback from program participants, to the DGA website. With our program being online and Mentors/Apprentices needing to interact with the DGA website on a daily basis, ECs identified pinch-points that are inefficient and could use updating. Those suggestions are being implemented at this time.

The last part of the day was spent with long-term ECs taking turns going through the Core Work Areas required of education coordinators, and giving presentations on how they manage those core work areas based on experience of what has worked for them and what hasn't when it comes to implementing programming for their Mentors. We have many new ECs in our network and that makes this part of the agenda extremely valuable. Having seasoned ECs teaching/sharing their experience with the new coordinators is a great peer-to-peer opportunity that is highly valued by the group.2022 EC Retreat

Outcomes and impacts:

Action outcomes: 

Updates/additions to DGA online platform - Mentor/Apprentice Applications

Recruitment plan for new DGA Mentors/Apprentices

Mentor survey created by ECs to prioritize Mentor Resources offered through LMS

Plan for new ECs to create work plan around long-term ECs experience with Mentor Roundtables and other Core Work areas

EC co-hort identification of retired Mentors/potential for Apprentice Mentors/1x1 communication work with identified Mentors

Five priority areas identified for classes to be added to the LMS

Goals set for 2023 for recruitment/Mentor contact and continued education for ECs

DGA Monthly Roundtables

Provide monthly topical webinars to our network (Mentors, Apprentices, Candidates) given by subject matter experts in the field.


DGA hosts monthly roundtable webinars with subject matter experts providing the content/interaction. Topics cover many aspects of grazing dairy farming. Below is a list of monthly topics for 2022:

  • Improving Mentoring & Communication Style
  • “Make Your Farm A Top Work Place”
  • “Building A Milking Parlor”
  • “Organic Options For Fly Control In Grazing Dairy Cattle”
  • “Options for Heat Stress Abatement in Dairy Cattle”
  • “Robotic Milking: A Fit For Dairy Grazing?”
  • “Silvopasture: An Enhancement for Dairy Grazing?”
  • “Improving Mentoring & Communication Skills”
  • “Adaptive vs. Management Intensive Grazing”
  • “Optimizing Fertility in Managed Pastures: do grazing cattle provide enough?”
Outcomes and impacts:

In 2022, we had over 250 attendees at our monthly roundtables with polls indicating what participants learned from the content provided. 

2022 Poll Report was emailed directly to Rob Meyers as I could not attach it to this report.


Educational & Outreach Activities

10 Consultations
6 Curricula, factsheets or educational tools
2 On-farm demonstrations
1 Online trainings
2 Tours
10 Webinars / talks / presentations
1 Workshop field days

Participation Summary:

18 Extension
10 Nonprofit
9 Agency
12 Ag service providers (other or unspecified)
220 Farmers/ranchers

Learning Outcomes

12 Participants gained or increased knowledge, skills and/or attitudes about sustainable agriculture topics, practices, strategies, approaches
12 Ag professionals intend to use knowledge, attitudes, skills and/or awareness learned

Project Outcomes

5 New working collaborations
17 Agricultural service provider participants who used knowledge and skills learned through this project (or incorporated project materials) in their educational activities, services, information products and/or tools for farmers
150 Farmers reached through participant's programs
Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.