Where Are They Now? Former On-Farm Intern Finds Career in Dairy Nutrition

Beckie Burns may not have grown up on a dairy farm, but thanks to an on-farm internship she completed on a Pennsylvania dairy farm and the welcoming community of dairy professionals she met along the way, she quickly realized her future was in dairy. A graduate of Iowa State University with a degree in animal science, Beckie recently accepted a job offer with Purina Animal Nutrition to work with dairy producers as a Livestock Production Specialist.

Beckie says the on-farm internship she completed the summer before her junior year of college is what motivated her to take more dairy classes throughout her undergraduate career.

“[The internship] definitely stuck with me, especially as I started taking more of those dairy-focused classes in my curriculum. It pushed me to take more dairy management classes,” she said. “I was able to reflect back to my experience on the farm. I continued to learn in school how the things on the farm were applicable to what I was learning.”

Not only did Beckie determine she wanted to find a career in the dairy industry, but she completed another internship the following year that helped her discover a specific career that could combine all of her passions.

“There was a consulting program I did over winter break that put together everything I was really interested in,” she explained. “I always had a hard time deciding whether I wanted to go down the reproduction, nutrition or genetics route. There were so many different areas I was interested in, but I felt like consulting really threw it all together.”

The program helped Beckie decide to take more dairy management and consulting classes and start participating in a dairy challenge contest at Iowa State. As she began applying for jobs in the sales and consulting world, she met individuals from Purina Animal Nutrition at a career fair. After several interviews, Beckie received a job offer the spring of her senior year to work as a Livestock Production Specialist in the dairy sales sector.  

When she begins her role in June, she expects to be on the road and visiting with 6-8 dairy farms a day throughout Lancaster County.   

“I learned from the on-farm internship that I didn’t want to work as a farm manager full-time, but I still really liked being on the farm. During my next internship, I was inside in a lab setting. I enjoyed what I was doing but I missed being on the farm and talking to new people every day,” Beckie shared. “With the Purina job opportunity, the thought of being able to interact with new producers every day really excites me. It combines both of my passions of talking to producers and interacting in the farm environment.”

Beckie during her 2020 on-farm internship at a Pennsylvania dairy farm

By working with dairy producers day in and day out, Beckie hopes to make an impact on the broader Pennsylvania dairy industry.

“I’ll be able to interact with producers every day and guide them toward products that can potentially help their bottom line. I think making that step with each farmer to help them achieve a profitable and successful operation will help the industry overall,” she said. “I know I’ll be supplying products that help keep happy and healthy cows, and that’s another big part of our industry. If our cows are happy and healthy, they’ll be producing a lot of milk and a very nutritious product for consumers.”

Beckie credits the networking opportunities she has had across the industry, including the people she met during her on-farm internship, with helping her find a meaningful career in the dairy industry.

“I’m really happy I was given all these opportunities to grow over the last four years, including the on-farm internship. Going from having no idea about what species I was interested in to now being so passionate about the dairy industry, I can really only thank the people who have given me opportunities and were so welcoming. So many people invited me to explore their sectors of the industry and see what I would like,” Beckie added.

The on-farm internship also helped equip her with several core skills that she utilizes to this day:

  • Respect for dairy producers. “The on-farm internship gave me a better respect for dairy producers and the hard work they put in every day of the year, especially since I hadn’t worked on a farm before. I’ve always carried that with me moving forward. It’s been kind of a driver for me to do better. If I can make an effort to make their lives at least a little easier, or support their mission, it means a lot.”
  • Communication. “The on-farm internship helped me better understood how to talk to dairy producers and how to interact with them. I gained more of an understanding of what they do. It definitely made me more comfortable, especially in the dairy challenge setting, to ask farms more educated questions. It just gave me more of a common ground.”

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.