On-Farm Intern Develops New Skills and Experience with Herd Health

After growing up on his family’s dairy farm, Drew Walton has been part of the dairy industry from an early age. About to begin his senior year at Penn State University, Drew recognized the importance of expanding his knowledge and skillset before he entered the job market. He wanted to find a way to develop new skills related to herd health, management and care.

Drew applied and was accepted into the on-farm internship program, where he is completing a summer internship on a 1,000-cow dairy in Chester County, Pennsylvania. He is one of seven college students 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.

“My main goal [of the internship] was to develop more skills, so if I ever wanted to take on a herdsman type of role, I would be equipped and know how to approach that job,” Drew said.

Throughout the summer, Drew learned from the farm’s herdsmen to work with fresh cows and treat sick animals. He also learned how to work with new pieces of equipment in the field and gained experience with breeding cows.

Since he finds herd work so rewarding, Drew decided to focus his research project on transition diseases in fresh cows, specifically subclinical ketosis cases in dairy herds. He spent the summer studying blood samples from randomly selected fresh cows and measuring their ketone body levels. His goal was to determine what percent of the herd had this incidence of disease.

“I really enjoy the research side. It has been fun,” Drew said. “I’ve kind of taken the research project further to ask more questions. For example, we have activity monitors on the cows, so I’ve been looking at how their eating times correlate with their likelihood of becoming ketotic.”

Thanks to the research project and hands-on experience with herd health, the internship helped Drew solidify his interest in working with animals.

“This summer has helped clarify that I really do like working on the animal side of things. I really enjoy that aspect of dairy farming,” Drew added.

With so many types of careers available to support the dairy industry, Drew reminds his peers that hands-on experience is beneficial to every career path.

“I would encourage other students to do the internship. No matter what kind of job you want to pursue in the dairy industry, getting hands-on experience and understanding what’s happening on the farm level is pretty important and will help no matter what career path you take,” he shared.

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.