With a natural curiosity toward everything dairy, a laser-focused drive and a love of problem-solving, Katelyn Packard, 2022 MMPA Outstanding Young Dairy Cooperator (OYDC), is a master of making change that allows everything else to fall in place.
On her family’s farm, in Manchester, Michigan, she manages 400 milking cows, expertly developing spreadsheets to find efficiencies, working with consultants to maximize profitability, and participating in research studies to improve herd health. She’s willing to seek out experts, consultants and researchers to learn more and implement change to leave a lasting legacy as the sixth generation on Horning Farms.
“When I first came back to the farm after college, my dad would give me a couple projects like managing our medicine inventory and ordering,” Packard said. “And then that grew from just the medicines to all the chemicals and now I manage most of the ordering. It’s just grown over time.”
The growth that she’s had on the farm is similar to the opportunities that they provide their employees as well and Packard attributes a lot of that to her dad, Jeff Horning.
“Our employees have been here longer than most other farms,” Packard said. “There’s not a lot of room to get promoted to senior vice president, but you can be in charge of more projects and more things. My dad is really good at recognizing what people’s skills and talents are and trying to keep them going in that direction. That kind of thing keeps people happy and makes them want to stay around.”
Full Reign to Leave a Legacy
For Packard, her dad has let her fall into place on the farm and given her full reign in the department of cow health and reproduction.
“I find cow reproduction really interesting. I would go to conferences and hear about trying new things and I’d dig into all of it,” Packard said. “Now I’m managing our artificial insemination schedule and breeding decisions. All of those responsibilities have grown.”
Packard implemented an activity monitoring system which was something she saw at a conference and brought back to the farm to improve their heat detection rate and conception rate. It was so successful that they’re now waiting longer to breed and they’ve seen improvement in other areas like animal health as well.
“On the mastitis side of things, a Michigan State University Extension study got me into culturing for mastitis management and pathogens,” Packard said. “I add milk to a plate and see if there’s any bacterial growth before making the decision if I’m actually intervening with antibiotics or not.”
The culturing has radically influenced their mastitis treatment plan. Packard has found that since they started the culturing program, only about half of the cows detected with mastitis have bacteria still present.
“Most of the time, the cow’s body is doing their job and their immune system is taking care of it,” Packard said. “Often, if they have a lot of garget and chunks in the milk, there won’t be any bacteria present. Historically I’d think it was a really bad case of mastitis and I have to use antibiotics, but I found now that that’s their immune system doing its job and in another three to five days, they’ll be totally clear without ever having to give antibiotics.”
This antibiotic stewardship is one of the many messages that Packard shares during the numerous farm tours and events that they put on. With her family’s help, Packard hosts monthly events on the farm and an annual neighborhood event, which all involve farm tours and education to tackle what Packard sees as the great challenge facing the industry.
“The greatest challenge facing the industry is public perception,” Packard said. “The negative perception that people have just because they don’t have any experience with dairy farming or understand what’s happening on farms and they hear negative views and take that as it is.”
Packard is doing her part though, hosting 5Ks, fun on the farms and virtual tours. “I love sharing about our farm and giving tours,” Packard said. “My favorite part is that we’re having events and tours and people are coming to our farm all the time.”
As part of the Horning Farm experience, visitors get to enjoy games and visit a farm shop featuring dairy products and meat. During the tours, Packard is an open and honest source about dairy farming and dairy products. She’s utilized the United Dairy Industry of Michigan resources to put the best foot forward for dairy in activities and messaging.
“Environmental sustainability is a huge topic right now, but why would I treat my land poorly so that in five years it’s not worth anything?” Packard asked. “Why would I treat my animals poorly when, if I treat them better, then they perform better? It’s like at a restaurant and if you give a customer terrible service, they’re not going to come back so you’re not going to make money.”
Everything Ties Together
The simplicity in sharing messages carries forward in how Horning Farms does business. Across the farm, Packard and her family believe, “In management, everything ties together. Just making the cows happy and comfortable, lets everything else fall into place.”
Falling into place is what led Packard to run for the MMPA OYDC program and go on to be recently named the 2022 OYDC by a panel of judges.
“The OYDC program is one of those things that my parents and grandparents did, so it’s something that felt really natural,” Packard said. “I’m looking forward to the chance to learn a little bit more about what goes on in the co-op and what is involved with being in one of those leadership positions.”
Packard’s experience with the co-op does run deep though. Along with her involvement as an MMPA Dairy Communicator in the Saline-Ann Arbor Local and participation in a variety of member services programs, Packard also interned with MMPA in college and went on to marry Joe Packard, MMPA member representative.
“I enjoyed the MMPA internship, but I learned that an office wasn’t for me,” Katelyn said. That’s an important realization for someone working full time on a dairy farm and excelling at it. “My favorite part of this job and why I enjoy it is because it’s a really good mix of being physically active and mentally active. I’m out moving around doing stuff physically each day and I’m problem solving all the time.”
The perk of being married to a field rep is that “I’ll ask Joe all kinds of questions because I see him every day. When it comes to my parlor performance or anything in general, I know that there’s somebody there that I can ask those questions when I don’t know those things.”
Katelyn’s willingness to listen to experts and make impactful changes is one of the many reasons she’s been so successful at letting everything fall into place – from improving heat detection rates to reducing antibiotic usage to being selected as 2022 MMPA OYDC.
This article was originally published in the September/October 2022 issue of the Milk Messenger. Subscribe »