Robots, Researchers & Dairy Cows..Oh My!

I didn’t grow up on a dairy farm, but I still shared the same Saturday morning fantasy of all farm children: a robot to do your farm chores while you sleep the day away.

At Michigan State University’s (MSU) Kellogg Biological Station (KBS) new dairy facility that dream is a reality.

With the help of a three-year $3.5 million development grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, KBS established a pasture based dairy facility that utilizes an automated milking system.

The new facility will support a 120-cow milking herd, plus dry cows and heifers.  It also includes a new freestall barn equipped with two Lely Astronaut A3 Robotic Milking Systems and is located in the middle of a 160-acre irrigated pasture.

How does a robot do the job of a highly skilled farm laborer?  See for yourself:

Will dairy farms across Michigan soon start milking their cows with robots?

Probably not, but with the tough economic conditions dairy producers are facing today it is no surprise that many operations are seeking new ways to cut costs and increase profitability.

Many of these producers, both conventional and pasture-based, are turning to research done at MSU for guidance.

Prior to the establishment of the KBS facility, however, MSU had not conducted any pasture-based dairy research.

“The development of a pasture-based dairy at KBS allows us to expand our portfolio of production alternatives for farmers and to develop new research and outreach programs that fit with interests and needs of diverse farm stakeholders,” said Karen Plaut, chair of the MSU Department of Animal Science.

In addition, the KBS facility will be home to animal behavior research focusing on animal behavior and health in grazing systems.  Video cameras were installed in the freestall barn to record the cows’ behavior 24 hours a day.

With all the new research going on, many dairy enthusiasts are eager to experience the KBS dairy for themselves.

On August 19, they’ll have that very opportunity at KBS’ Open House for the Pasture Dairy Research & Education Center (Adobe pdf).

Representatives from MSU, KBS and Lely will be stationed throughout the facility explaining the different research projects being conducted and the new technologies being utilized.

You can bet I’ll be there!

Just because I don’t own a pasture-based, robotic milking dairy farm doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate the continued agricultural innovation and research going on at KBS.

The Ultimate #FollowFriday

Every time I help someone start using Twitter they always have the same question:

“What is the point?”

Twitter is all about networking and sharing information from around the world.  Whether you love cooking, celebrity gossip, or sports there are “tweeps” for you out there!

Agriculture is no different.  The ag twitter community is tight knit, supportive, and informative.

Don’t believe me?

Here are ten of my favorite agriculture Twitterers from across the country (in alphabetical order).  Think of it as the ultimate #FollowFriday.

Want to see more about a certain person? Click their picture and you’ll be linked to their twitter homepage.





The Best Kids in the World are Raised in a Show Barn

I’ve never been to a livestock show that didn’t leave a lasting impression on me.

I never expected to feel that way about a dairy show!  The 2009 Michigan Dairy Expo, however, was an amazing experience for all involved.

The week started with the 4-H Dairy Days quiz bowl competition.  This was the first year for the “novice” division of the contest and the turn out was great!

These kids really knew their stuff; it was so humbling to be educated about the dairy industry by kids half my age!

moserTuesday was an early morning.  4-H Dairy Days Showmanship started at 7:30 a.m. with three rings running at the same time.

I was so lost! My job for the day was to take pictures of all the winners.  There was just one problem: I only knew a handful of these kids!

Luckily some show moms stepped in and helped me out.  I quickly put names and faces together and was able to grab kids as they came out of the ring and snap a picture in front of the backdrop.

After showmanship we rolled straight into the 4-H Dairy Days Breed Shows.

The exhibitors never took a break!  They were either showing or fitting or watching the show.

Everyone helped one another.  When a 4-Hers heifer decided she had to go right before going into the ring, I watched as three different parents offered the kid a paper towel or help cleaning the heifer up.

It reminded me so much of what I love about showing pigs: even though we compete against each other we’re still a big family who is there to help each other out whenever needed.

The Supreme Master Showman sold cheese in the Saleabration.

The Supreme Champion Showman sold cheese in the Saleabration.

Tuesday night was the first ever Michigan Livestock Expo Saleabration.  Even though the dairy exhibitors typically don’t sell their animals, they were included in the sale and sold dairy products instead.

It was such a unique experience to see the dairy and livestock realms combine for that event!

The sponsors were so generous and deserve so much gratitude for supporting all the great kids who were honored at the sale.

Wednesday was dominated by The Great Dairy Adventure consumer education day.

There were representatives from across the Michigan dairy industry out in full force to work booths dedicated to teaching the thousands of local children who visited about dairy production.

I spent the day at the “Ag Goes High Tech” booth helping kids tweet about what they enjoyed about the experience.

It was a pretty simple procedure:

  1. I’d ask the kids if they had fun and what their favorite part of the Great Dairy Adventure was.
  2. I’d ask the parent/guardian if it was ok to tweet it by explaining that there were many farmers on Twitter and that this was a way to say thank you to them for their hard work and share what the kids learned about dairy production.
  3. I’d give the child a coloring page with a link to the Michigan Dairy Expo website and Michigan Dairy Expo on Twitter so they could find their tweet when they got home.

The responses were amazing.  We had “tweeters” ranging from their toddler years to grandparents, all eager to share with the world what they learned and loved about The Great Dairy Adventure.

Some of my favorite tweets were:

Emmy, age 3 “I liked hugging the cows.”

Chloe, age 8: “My favorite part was petting a baby calf. It was 3 weeks old.”

Dorwin, 57: “It gave the young kids a chance to see animals and what dairy products really are.”

Robert, age 63: ” I liked that it was promoting the dairy industry & farmers, glad to see someone sticking up for them.”

There were so many people on Twitter who loved our “Ag Goes High Tech” tweets that we compiled them all into a pdf file to share.

Thursday was the first day of the open show.  We started with showmanship then showed all the open heifers and finished up with PeeWee Showmanship.

PeeWee Showmanship (or Novice as we know it in KY) is a way for kids too young to participate in 4-H shows to discover all the great things about showing an animal.

One of the PeeWee showmen.

A very proud PeeWee.

Dr. Joe Domecq judges the class every year and gives each child a taste of the public speaking skills that go hand in hand with raising 4-H project animals.

Think of it as the agricultural version of “Kids Say the Darndest Things.”

Each child states their name, points out their parents in the audience, shares the name of their animal, and answers whatever other questions they may be asked.

Each year the competition is so close that they award all participants top honors and present each of them with a trophy!

If you want a better understanding of event, check out Michigan Dairy Expo’s MooTube video about it.

Thursday evening is the awards banquet for all the Dairy Days competitions.

While the participants already know the results of the quiz bowl and showmanship contests, they are still anxious to find out how they did in the dairy judging and dairy management competitions.

Friday was dedicated to the open cow show.

I was once again playing photographer, however, I had gotten to know so many families over the course of the week that it was much easier to keep track of who I needed pictures of.

It was an incredibly long five days, but an incredibly rewarding five days as well.

These guys reminded me that shows are not meant to be serious.

These guys reminded me that shows are not meant to be serious.

I met 6 and 7 year old kids who reminded me that it doesn’t matter what happens in the ring; shows are really about having fun and making friends.

I watched years of hard work pay off for some 4-Hers and tears choked back by others who knew it would be another year before they could chase that dream again.

I saw kids lives change before my eyes, a surreal experience to for someone who just aged out of 4-H herself.

I have always said that the best kids in the world are raised in a show barn.

Every time I said that, I was referring to the livestock shows I had grown up in.

Now I have proof that dairy barns are no different.

My newfound appreciation for Michigan’s dairy producers

When I arrived at Michigan State, one thing was made very clear to me: I would be living and breathing Michigan Dairy Expo until its completion on July 24.

For a little over a month, I’ve been building the Dairy Expo website, scouring the web for dairy industry resources, establishing a Dairy Expo facebook fan page, and tweeting my heart out from the @MSUDairyExpo account.

Today is the last work day before Dairy Expo.

I should probably be nervous about next week.  I’m not a “dairy person,” I wouldn’t know how to judge a dairy cow if my life depended on it!

Luckily for me, the dairymen and women I’ve met in Michigan have been more than welcoming.  They’ve patiently answered my ridiculous questions and taught me more than I ever expected to know about the dairy industry.

Now I’ll be the first to admit that all farmers are amazing people but in the past few weeks I’ve gained a new respect for dairy folks.

Dairy kids, for instance, have surprised me in how dedicated they are to not just the show ring but the industry as a whole.  They are inspiring advocates for their industry and have a passion for sharing their experience on the farm with consumers.

Prime example: The Cow Kids.

Photo courtesy of the Cow Kids

Photo courtesy of the Cow Kids

The Cow Kids are Mid-Michigan siblings who blog about their experiences not only showing cows but everyday life on a farm. 

Each sibling takes turns blogging, each with a different perspective and emphasis.  What I love about this blog is that the posts are mini-snapshots of the kids’ daily life. 

After reading a few posts, it becomes evident that though they love raising cows, they are normal kids just like anyone else.  Take Eric for instance, who wrote:

“Last night my dad, brother, and I went to the MSU dairy barn to judge cows with my dairy team. I’m so excited because this is my second year judging and my instructor said I’m doing really well. I’m also excited about going camping this weekend with my friends.”

Adults in the dairy industry, on the other hand, don’t just want to tell consumers how they raise their cows, they want to show the general public all the hard work that goes into dairy production.

Photo courtesy of

Photo courtesy of

On June 20, Tony and Patti Jandernoa of  St. Johns welcomed over 1,250 visitors to Dutch Meadows Dairy, their family owned and operated farm, for Breakfast on the Farm.

Visitors were served a free “made-in-Michigan” breakfast of pancakes with all the fixings.  All of the breakfast ingredients were donated from across Mid-Michigan.

“People don’t know where their food comes from anymore,” Tony explained, “We want them to see where it all starts.”

Neighboring dairy producers volunteered to staff stations set up within the cow barn, milking parlor, and calf housing to answer questions and explain what goes on in a specific area of the operation.

“I don’t think I’m smart enough to be a farmer,” a visitor told me after finishing the tour, “I wouldn’t know how to run that equipment, let alone fix it when it breaks!”

Planning and executing an event of this magnitude took a small army of dairy enthusiasts and months of planning but it was well worth it! 

“I will never complain about the price of milk again, you guys work hard for your money,” a mother told Patti.

If that doesn’t tell you that this event was a success I don’t know what will!

Regardless of their age, the Michigan dairy producers I’ve met over the past month have earned not only my respect but my admiration. 

They find time to advocate for the dairy industry, agriculture as a whole, and still make it home in time for the evening milking.

So no matter what next week has in store for me, I know I’ll be facing it with some of Michigan’s finest farmers on my side.

Laughing at Myself: Social Media Cartoons

I always hate when someone asks me what I’m doing at Michigan State.

Its hard to explain to them that I can really spend 40 hours a week working productively via social media.

After seeing some of these cartoons, however, I better understand what people are thinking when tell them that!

So here’s my attempt to connect with those of you who are not fortunate enough to draw your primary income from social media.

First one’s my favorite, sometimes I think my parents feel this way about me!









I got all of these from searching Flickr so if you didn’t want them shared or they’re under creative commons/copyright or something then just email me and I’ll take them down or comment that its your work and post a link to your site. 

Pitch away cartoonists.

Back to the Blogosphere

As usual my summer is jam packed with trips, conferences, and work.  The past few weeks have been more than crazy!

Here’s a recap:

I spent June 9-11 as Public Relations Intern for the Kentucky Association FFA.  This meant that I contacted (and in some cases annoyed) Lexington media outlets and tried to convince them to cover the first KY FFA Convention there in 65 years. 

When a reporter showed up, I found them a story.  Pretty simple…pretty stressful!

Even though I shoved her in front of news writers, Ashlee Castle still loves me!

Even though I shoved her in front of reporters, Ashlee Castle still loves me!

Luckily, Kentucky FFA is full of newsworthy members.  Special props go out to Quint Pottinger and Ashlee Castle, state officers who I shoved in front of a camera or reporter with little or no prior notice.

A HUGE thank you, congratulations, or whatever goes out to Jessica Gambrel from the North Laurel FFA Chapter. 

When a TV station showed up after the opening session had started, I couldn’t allow them to interview a state officer.  Jessica was the courtesy corps member stationed by the awards room so we just grabbed her and took a chance on letting them interview her.

She rocked it!  Only a junior in high school, Jessica was poised and articulate as she explained what KY FFA meant to her and how excited the members were to be in Lexington.  She handled some tough questions perfectly, and I could not have been more proud!

My other big job at KY FFA Convention was to be the “Roaming Reporter.”  I picked a question, grabbed a camera man from our video crew, and took off to find members to interview.  The end product was a pre-session video prefacing the session to come and giving the average member a chance to be a part of the convention happenings.

I won’t lie, being 19 years old and having your own camera guy (even if only for 2 hours) is pretty cool!

Josh, Tyler, and Aaron: my former state officer teammates at the preconvention Lexington Legends game

Josh, Tyler, and Aaron: my former state officer teammates at the Lexington Legends game.

The best part of convention, without a doubt, was catching up with old FFA friends.  It is surreal to think about how differently my life would be without my 5 years in a blue jacket.  My FFA friends are my family, and I don’t really know what I’d do without them.

After convention and a couple days of rest, laundry, and packing, I was headed to Michigan!

Audrey, my boyfriend’s sister, tagged along and kept me company on the 8 hour drive to Lansing.  I really owe her for that!  She helped me unload all my crap, set up my room, move my bed, and was an awesome navigator. 

Monday was my first day of work as: Michigan State University College of Agriculture & Natural Resources Communications: Animal Welfare/Animal Agriculture Initiative Intern. Say that 3 times fast!

Basically, the intern who experiences whatever is going on in the world of Michigan State Animal Ag Extension (primarily dairy) and goes back to the office and writes about it.

Monday was a “get to know you” day.  I met a lot of the people I’m sharing office space with and learned what they do and what they’re working on.

A participant describes the characteristics of a Brown Swiss for her fellow Cow Campers.

A participant describes the characteristics of a Brown Swiss for her fellow Cow Campers.

Tuesday was Cow Camp.  That was an experience!  MSU put on 5 different one day Dairy Youth Cow Camps across Michigan.  The whole idea behind this is to teach kids about the dairy industry.  Most of the participants show dairy, but many are just interested in the industry.

Participants rotate between learning stations and sampled dairy products, learned the differences in dairy breeds, practiced showmanship techniques, listened to a calf’s heartbeat and shot their own “Got Milk” advertisements complete with milk mustaches!
I was learning right along with the kids.  I have no dairy background whatsoever and was totally out of my element.  It was very humbling to watch a 6 year old name all the dairy breeds and realize that I couldn’t!
Wednesday and Thursday I was on the Michigan Milk Producers Association Milk Marketing Tour.  This consisted of high school students who were interested in cooperatives and the dairy industry. 
This group designed a cooperative that would help dairy producers convert manure to a marketable product.

This group designed a cooperative that would help dairy producers convert manure to a marketable product.

Prior to this event, I had no idea how milk was marketed.  I learned so much in these two days that I know I annoyed my boyfriend as I spouted off random dairy facts every time I talked to him! 

At the end of the tour, students were assigned teams and asked to design their own cooperatives and present them to the group.  It was really neat to see them apply what they had learned and think outside the box. 
Now its Friday.  I’ve been in the office, writing articles, designing posters, and meeting with industry professionals and all in my first week’s work.

When I lay in bed at night, I still wonder if I really am in Michigan. 

Did I really move 8 hours from home to chase a dream?  Am I really living in a strange city, working on a strange campus, pursuing a practically nonexistent career goal? Sometimes I think I’ve lost my mind. 

And then something will happen that reminds me why I’m here. 

Like today, when I was meeting with someone in the industry that I hardly knew and she listened to what I had to say.  Or Tuesday, when a 10 year old asked me what he should do about the fact that no on in his class thought farming was as cool as he did.  Or Thursday, when a dairy farmer’s wife told me she couldn’t wait to see my name in by-lines. 

I may have lost my mind, but I sure haven’t lost sight of what I’m here for: to stick up for the agriculture industry and give it a voice.

Follow KY State FFA Convention on Celeste Laurent’s Twitter!

What is Quint Pottinger’s favorite FFA activity?  What inspired Derek Adams to be a state FFA officer?  Who won the state parliamentary procedure Careeer Development Event?  What’s it like to experience state convention in Rupp Arena?

FFA members, sponsors, and agriculture enthusiasts across the Bluegrass state will be full of questions next week as Kentucky FFA hosts its 80th annual State Convention for the first time in Lexington.  For the first time ever, these questions can be answered via Twitter!

As Public Relations intern for Kentucky FFA, I’ll be running around the convention hall, looking for stories and showing Lexington media outlets just how amazing KY FFA members are.  On top of that, I’ll be using Twitter, to answer your questions throughout the convention, and some will even make this website!

Here’s how it works:

Go to

Click the button that says “Follow” so that you will begin recieving anything I tweet.

To ask a question, just start the tweet with @celestelaurent

I’ll respond with an answer as soon as possible.

Its that simple!

New to Twittering?  Not a problem.  Check out The Beginner’s Guide to Twitter, its the same how-to guide that I used to get started. (Remember, you are not required to set up Twitter on your phone, the web version works just fine!)

While your at it, check out the Facebook group “I’m Following KY State FFA Convention on Celeste Laurent’s Twitter” and invite your friends!

Can’t wait to see what you all have to tweet about!

Living Disconnected

No, I haven’t fallen off the face of the earth.  Since finishing finals on May 15, I’ve been living life disconnected. 

Instead of dealing with dial-up, my family (like many in our area) has decided to live without an internet connection.  This was fine when I was in middle school, inconvenient when I was in high school, and downright impossible as a college student.

Especially a college student pursuing a career in online journalism.

Luckily, my boyfriend is patient enough to check my email for me daily and let me spend an hour online each time I visit him. This allows me to stay somewhat up to date while living without the web.

Taking a break from the world wide web has had its positive points.

Daniel and Anna after her 8th grade graduation.

Daniel and Anna after her 8th grade graduation.

Spending so much time on the farm and with the family has been very introspective. 

I’ve reminded myself how much I love small town life, reconnected with my high school girlfriends, and literally prayed that my favorite sow would be bred.

I remembered how great a home grilled New York strip tastes, how sweet the smell of a barbeque pit is, and that there’s nothing quite like a diet cherry coke from Harned’s.

I’ve spent far too much time with my youngest brother. I doubt there’s any other college student who knows the theme songs to Phineas and Ferb and Word World.

The Laurent FFA members and KY State Reporter, Ashlee Castle.

The Laurent FFA members and KY State Reporter, Ashlee Castle.

I watched my siblings succeed at their end of the year banquets: Aaron installed as chapter Vice President, Renee named Star Greenhand and Outstanding Freshman Leadership, and Anna graduate from 8th grade.

Have I written much? No.

Beyond a few FFA press releases, I’ve used my laptop for little more than playing cards.

I’m not breaking my promised to blog more and write more, I’m just delaying it. 

Give me a few weeks.  Before you know it I’ll have plenty of FFA articles and be on the cutting edge of agriculture news again.  Until then, I’ll be enjoying the simpler things in life.

Closing Time: My Last Jou 232 Blog Post

As I’ve written before, I am truly a poet at heart.  To me, life should be expressed in verse or rhyme.  Its no wonder that this post reminds me of the lyrics of one of my favorite songs, Closing Time by Semisonic:

“Every new beginning comes from some other beginnings end.”

This is the end of my first taste of online journalism, but the beginning of my pursuit of this field as a career.

This is my last blog post as a Journalism 232 student. 

The one belonging I'd need on a deserted island.

My laptop, which my boyfriend affectionately refers to as my "other boyfriend."

This class has made more of an impact on me than any other journalism class I’ve taken.  Obviously, it was the motivation for this website but its also led to my Twitter account, my LinkedIn profile, and ultimately my internship this summer at Michigan State.

More importantly, this class led me to my new passion: online agriculture journalism.

I had always realized the need for a greater online presence for the agriculture industry, however, I never thought I would be a part of it.  This class has given me the tools to break into this niche and now its up to me to find my spot in it.

As I look back on my early blog posts I can’t help but laugh.

I was worried about my lack of portfolio pieces and landing the internship I had been dreaming about since high school, saying:

“Hopefully, the next time I apply for a dream internship, job, or whatever I can put my best foot forward and prove myself on the web.”

Little did I know that I would not be selected for that position and would spend a month searching for any summer job that paid.

Never in my wildest dreams did I expect my last ditch attempt at finding internship suggestions via Twitter would yield a job offer.  

Cliche as it may seem, this website and the other skills I gained in my Journalism 232 class really did “put my best foot forward” and land me an internship that exceeds all my expectations!

This may be the last post in the Jou 232 category, but its far from the last on this blog.

You can expect more posts, more agriculture issues coverage, and of course, updates how this Cajun Kentuckian adjusts to life in Michigan!

It may be closing time, but this is only the beginning!

WKU: Promoting Agriculture Misconceptions Daily

Normally, I would hold my tongue.
Normally, I would cut them some slack, laugh it off, and go on with life pretending that whoever it was had not just made some ridiculous agriculture illiterate mistake.
This is an exception. 
When I walked into the Tower Food Court at Western Kentucky University last night, I was greeted by a cartoon pig sporting a band-aid.  This jovial porker was on a large sign at the door of the food court to encourage me to wash my hands and take other steps to prevent getting the flu.
Taken with my blackberry and touched up on Photoshop.  I'll try to get a better picture soon.

Taken with my blackberry and touched up on Photoshop. I'll try to get a better picture soon.

Did it say “swine flu?” No.

Did it imply “swine flu?” Yes.

At a time when the agriculture industry is suffering from the unnecessary hysteria that is the H1N1 influenza, you would expect that our institutions of higher education would be promoting the truth about the situation. 

Sadly, the folks at Western didn’t take the time to watch the news, check the facts, or (heaven forbid) talk to anyone in the agriculture department before designing these ridiculous signs.

Since this start of the ongoing drama that is H1N1, I have heard more intelligent people sound like idiots.


For example, sitting behind student journalists (who I previously perceived to be well informed) in my Media and Society class, I learned this:

“You can only get swine flu if you are around pigs or farms.” – Student 1

“That’s good, there’s only like 30 farmers in Kentucky.” – Student 2

“No, there’s more than 30 farmers, you have to count racehorses, they have farmers.” – Student 1

“That’s true, so like 100 people.  So why is it a big deal? Are there more farmers other places?” – Student 2

And we wonder why the American people aren’t eating pork? 

If the students at one of the most celebrated public journalism schools in the country don’t care enough to get the facts then how can we expect the average consumer to?

The fact is that we can’t.  As agriculturalists, it is our responsibility to publicize the truth about agriculture so often that the general public can’t help but get a dose of reality.

The National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) has done a stellar job of this since the outbreak of H1N1.

The NPPC has continuously released information to consumers and the media explaining the safety of American pork products.  Pork producers across the country are appearing on news broadcasts, being interviewed in newspapers, and speaking to health conscious audiences.

Even more kudos to the NPPC for utilizing social media to publicize the truth.  Every time I saw @NPPC tweet a new press release I immediately retweeted it.  Each time I viewed the #swineflu trending topic on Twitter, I saw at least one tweet quoting an NPPC release.

They’ve even built an entirely seperate website to spread H1N1 facts and advertised this site in full page ad in today’s issue of USA Today.

While they are doing a stellar job, we cannot expect the NPPC to combat these misconceptions alone.  The entire agriculture industry must do their job to spread the truth about H1N1. 

You don’t have to write an article, blog or tweet about it.  Just explaining the truth to confused classmates, sharing information with school administrators, writing letters to the editor in newspapers that are still using the thrill seeking word “swine flu” can make a major impact.

Or, you can take a more creative approach: write a song about it and post it on YouTube.

Whatever your method of choice, it is up to the agriculture industry to spread the truth about H1N1.  Obviously, our institutions of higher education are not.