Meet Ryan, an On-Farm Intern Who Traveled 1,000+ Miles to Gain Experience on Minnesota Dairy Farm

Ryan Parker did not grow up on a dairy farm, but he has loved his time spent working with dairy cattle over the last six years. In high school, he was enrolled in an agriculture education program which meant he needed to pursue an SAE (supervised agricultural experience). As a high school freshman, that’s when he found a job at a local dairy farm. His experience there allowed him to find his passion.

“That’s kind of where it all started and then it grew from there,” Ryan said. “I went into 4-H and got my own cow. I ended up at Delaware Valley University where I am majoring in dairy science.”

This summer, Ryan decided to get out of his comfort zone and continue expanding his dairy knowledge by completing an on-farm internship at Tauer Dairy in Hanska, Minnesota. The Tauer Dairy team milks 250 cows in a double six herringbone parlor with free stalls.

“I figured while I am still young and have the opportunities in my hands, I might as well take as many as I can. A lot of things don’t compare to learning by doing, so I thought this would be a great opportunity for me to expand on my knowledge and see the different ways they farm in other parts of the country,” he shared.

Ryan has been responsible for daily milking chores, helping with cleaning the free stall barn, and a few days a week, he has assisted with the dry cows. Ryan has also been responsible for keeping the feed bunks pushed up and manure scraped from the alleys.

While being on a new operation and experiencing the way dairy farming is in the Midwest, Ryan has found the new adventure to be rewarding. One of his favorite parts of the experience is being able to operate machinery on the farm.

“I had never done much of it before, so coming here and being trusted to scrape out the free stall barn has been great. The manure pile is 15 minutes down the road, but they let me take the tractor out and go. It has been a big confidence boost that they trust me to do that,” he said.

Ryan has learned a lot throughout the on-farm internship experience, but he says it was a learning curve to get used to the protocols on a new dairy operation.

“Working at two dairy farms previously, you get very accustomed to the way they do things and their protocols,” he explained. “Going to a new farm that does everything differently, it was difficult to change what I’ve learned over the past six years to fit their protocols and learn to do it the way they want.”

For example, Tauer Dairy utilizes a different mastitis program than Ryan was accustomed to, which includes the non-use of antibiotics in mastitis cases. This philosophy allows the farm to keep the cow’s milk in the tank, rather than keep it out due to residue withholdings.

“They treat symptoms if it comes to that scenario, and they let the cow deal with it on its own as long as she is in good health otherwise,” Ryan shared. “It’s interesting to see because based on their DHIA records, they have a fantastic somatic cell count.”

As part of his research project, which is a requirement of the on-farm internship program, Ryan is evaluating options for the farm to implement a selective dry cow treatment program. He has been working through DHIA records to create a list of recommended cows that are eligible for the program. Ultimately, he will be proposing his findings and reasons for each cow to the dairy’s management team.

Following his time at Tauer Dairy, Ryan will be returning to Delaware Valley University to continue his college education this fall. He knows he wants cattle to be part of his future, and he is eager to continue learning all he can about the dairy and beef industries.

“This has been a crazy experience. I never thought I would be able to travel out to the Midwest and say that I lived in Minnesota for three months,” Ryan added. “I got to farm for fun while learning and getting paid to do it. I made new connections. It has been a really great opportunity all around.”

The 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.