Animal Science Student Expands Horizons During Internship at Minnesota Dairy

After growing up in Southern Lancaster County, Dominic Mattilio hasn’t been afraid to get out of his comfort zone. As a junior at Penn State University studying animal science with a minor in agronomy, Dominic is spending his summer more than 1,100 miles away in Hanska, Minnesota at Tauer Dairy, a 220-cow dairy farm. He is one of seven college students who are completing on-farm internships through the Center for Dairy Excellence Foundation of Pennsylvania, the Professional Dairy Managers of Pennsylvania, and the Pennsylvania Dairymen’s Association.

When Dominic heard about the internship program, which is designed for college students who plan to pursue careers in dairy, he was excited about the prospect of expanding his horizons and gaining experience on a new dairy operation.

“I learned about the internship at a career fair, so I asked, ‘What will set me apart from other applicants?’ They said being comfortable with traveling far,” he shared. “I told them I was willing to go to a faraway farm—anywhere they needed me, I could be there. I like doing something different, and I was excited to be out West and see new places. It’s something I enjoy doing.”

After submitting his internship application and being accepted into the program, Dominic was paired with David and Angie Tauer of the Minnesota dairy farm. Throughout the summer, he works approximately 50-60 hours a week and helps with milking, bedding calves, cleaning out free stalls, and helping cows give birth. Dominic says he thrives in a fast-paced environment and enjoys how every day is different.

“For me, this internship has allowed me to get out of my comfort zone. I got to travel and go somewhere different. There’s nothing better,” he said. “One of my favorite things is going to a new farm and seeing what they’re doing and how they’re doing it. Every single farm is different and has something new to offer. It’s a great way to go out and see how a dairy producer is doing it.”

For the Tauer family, sharing their knowledge with Dominic has made the summer enjoyable and is allowing them to give back to the future of dairy.

“We love sharing our farm with Dominic. He’s so well-spoken, loves to ask questions, and enjoys learning about the hows and whys of running a dairy business,” said Angie Tauer of Tauer Dairy. “Farmers only make up 2% of the occupations in the United States, and it’s important to share with the next generation and those around us why it’s so important we do what we do.”

One of Dominic’s favorite parts of the internship involves when cows give birth. He enjoys helping with calving and seeing everything come full circle on the farm.

“I really enjoy helping cows with calving. I luck out, every time I work, we seem to have a cow calving. That’s something I look forward to, and I get to help out. It’s very rewarding to be able to help a cow and see the end result of a calf,” Dominic added.

As part of the internship program, Dominic is required to complete a research project. His project involves helping the Tauer family create a plan for a new heifer barn, giving him experience in project management and goal-setting. As he works to understand the owners’ goals for the facility, including cow comfort, pen size, cost and budget, Dominic is gaining exposure to all aspects of running a successful dairy operation.

“The owners are thinking of building a new heifer barn to house about 240 heifers. My project is to help them figure out what they want, where to put it, and how they’re going to do it,” he said. “I get to talk to them about what they’re looking for in a heifer barn and what they want and don’t want. It’s nice because I’ll be able to apply these skills in the real world later in life.”

After graduation, Dominic hopes to pursue a career in animal nutrition or cattle reproduction. His internship has helped him realize the true impact he can make on the dairy industry in a variety of careers.

“When I was younger, I really wanted to have my own dairy farm but it can be difficult to start your own dairy from scratch without a family background. This internship helped me see there are other ways I can be involved in dairy and there are a lot of jobs that have a big impact on the industry,” he said.

The Center for Dairy Excellence Foundation, the Professional Dairy Managers of Pennsylvania, and the Pennsylvania Dairymen’s Association provide $3,000 grants to support the on-farm internship program each summer. Learn more.