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January 2008

Ag-Tech Internships: MSU Students earn real world dairy experience

Joe Domecq
Jacob McCarthy
Dept. of Animal Science

The MSU Ag Tech Dairy Management Program is a 1.5 year long program designed to provide students with a basic foundation of knowledge about dairy production and management. Basic principles of dairy nutrition, reproduction, health, business and management are studied.

An important part of the program is the internship. All students must complete an internship to graduate from the program. Internships have to be a minimum of 3 months long and cannot be completed on the family farm or any farm a student has worked on for an extended period of time. Students are encouraged to live away from home during the internship, which normally occurs between the first and second year of the program. Almost all Ag Tech dairy internships happen on dairy farms, but other opportunities do exist.

Every effort is made to match each student’s goals and interests with specific internship opportunities. Over 50% of 2007 internships were outside the state of Michigan. The size of herds utilized for internships ranged from 60 cows to over 7000 cows and represented all types of dairy operations including purebred, commercial, grazing, and organic.

Elizabeth Adams

Where did you intern?

Simon’s Dairy in Westphalia, with Larry Simon.

What was your prior experience?

I grew up on a-150 cow dairy farm in Lake City, Michigan where we raise our own replacement heifers and grow most of our own feed. I also helped raise heifers for the Kosters in Falmouth, Michigan.

What were your responsibilities as an intern?

As an intern I helped with calvings, fresh cow checks, vaccinations, treating sick animals and raising calves. At the beginning of the internship, I didn’t have much responsibility and someone was always there to help me get my chores done. However, after a month, they began to trust me and I was permitted to work with the animals on my own.

In what ways was the farm you interned at similar and different from farms to which you’re accustomed?

The Simon’s is a 600-cow dairy that is still expanding, which seemed massive compared to my home farm. Yet, they managed to give individual cows the attention they required much like we do at home.

What did you learn from your internship?

On my internship, I learned a lot of practical things, like how to identify and treat sick animals, but the most important thing I learned was how to manage a larger number of animals. This is valuable to me because I hope to be the herdsman for my farm and the “behind scenes” management was something I didn’t have any experience with. I already knew how to do things, but interning at the Simon’s helped me understand why I was doing them.

What did you anticipate the internship being like? How did this differ from reality?

I expected the internship to be like a job, I would be given duties and I would perform them every day. Yet, when I arrived, every worker on the farm made sure that I was learning something new everyday. If I wanted to try something or if I had questions, they would take time to work with me and help me understand.

What advice would you give to future ag tech interns?

The best advice that I have for future interns is to dive right in! Use every opportunity to learn and become a better manager.

Greg Thon

Where did you intern?

Alexandre Family Dairy in Crescent City, California, with Blake and Stephanie Alexandre.

What was your prior experience?

Worked on small dairy all through school.

What were your responsibilities as an intern?

As I started my internship I was tested with a few simple tasks such as cleaning up around the farm and assisting the herdsman. After I proved myself, I was put in charge of helping to manage the maternity barn. This was a great experience. I got a lot of responsibilty and learned people managment skills. From there I did whatever I wanted to experience. I did everything from breeding cows, treating cows, to managing pastures and putting up feed. The more I proved myself the more responsibilty I was given and I love it. I was involved in all company meetings and when a decision was to be made for the dairy my input was always asked and taken seriously.

In what ways was the farm you interned at similar and different from farms to which you’re accustomed?

The only thing that was similar between the farm I come from to the farm I interned at was the fact they milked cows! I came from a 72-cow tie-stall barn to a 3000-cow intensive grazing organic dairy. In California the cows were spread over 3 dairies with about 5000 acres of organic pasture. In California we had Hispanic employees with whom I became good friends and learned and appreciated their culture.

What did you learn from your internship?

I learned a lot of things on my internship with cows, like how to give an I.V. or how to trim feet but you can learn these on any dairy. It was the other things that I learned that made this internship worthwhile. I learned how to “rip the blinders off” and see the big picture of things. How not to judge but to perceive like investigating why things are done the way they are before criticizing. I also learned how to be progressive and the skills that it takes to make money in the dairy industry. I learned how to work hard and smart and still find the balance in your life of being very succesful and enjoying a rich life in the dairy industry. These are valuable lessons that I doubt I would have learned anywhere else but from the Alexandre family.

What did you anticipate the internship being like? How did this differ from reality?

I envisioned my internship being me living by myself lonely, homesick, and uneventful but I could not have predicted what I was in for. As soon as I got to the farm I became part of the family. I lived, worked, and played with the family. I was involved with family events and every aspect of their lives. I guessed the employees would be quiet and not interact, but I was wrong and I became close to many of them. They taught me Spanish as I helped their English. They took me to their homes at night when the Alexandres were gone and cooked me dinners. They took me ocean fishing and claming. They also taught me tricks and secrets to working and treating cows that will be with me the rest of my life.

What advice would you give to future ag tech interns?

People ask me what I would have done different on my internship and to this day I can still think of nothing. If I had to give advice to anyone going on an internship I would say step out of your comfort zone and rip the blinders off. See the big picture. Work and and respect your boss and they will do things for you that you could never imagine. When I first started at MSU I told my adviser that I was not going to leave Michigan and I was not going to anything larger than a 100-cow dairy. Well, he changed that and I am glad he did.






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