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Former Army medic finds love of dairy industry at the United States Dairy Education and Training Consortium

Progressive Dairyman Writer Jaclyn Krymowski Published on 01 August 2017
fresh/sick cow team at Ridge View Dairy

As the dairy industry expands and moves to larger operations, it opens several new avenues of opportunity. For Dan Cooper it was the perfect, though unsuspecting, outlet that combined his interests of biomedical technology, medicine, the outdoors and animals.

Cooper, a native of Cocoa Beach, Florida, had an unusual start on the path that would lead him to finding his dream career. Following the events of September 11, Cooper was inspired to join the service. His decision fell in line with the footsteps of family veterans before him, who served in World War II and Korea. Upon graduating high school at 17 years old, he promptly had his mother cosign for him to join the Army. Working as a medic, his military career first deployed him to Iraq and then to Afghanistan. After his second deployment, he decided to come home and pursue higher education.

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Cooper returned to a college in Florida and earned an associate of science in biomedical technology. His time in school made him realize that he wanted to take his career in a less conventional direction. “I decided I didn’t really want to work in a hospital. I wanted to do something outdoors,” he says. “Animal science was the way I wanted to go.”

This decision lead him to Texas A&M University; he was attracted to a school that, like him, had a strong military heritage. Additionally, it was coupled with a prestigious, nationally recognized animal science curricula. After his first semester, he had already made it to the honors program. His honors instructor was quick to recommend him to the United States Dairy Education and Training Consortium (USDETC) in College Station, Texas. “I figured why not, I should try it,” Cooper says. “I knew I had an interest in cattle, but I didn’t think dairy would be the way I’d go.”

Dan Cooper at USDETC

The consortium, formerly The Southern Great Plains Dairy Consortium, aims to supplement the dairy science and management resources universities offer. It’s an effort to fill the industry’s demand for employees with the practical skills to work on large-scale dairy operations. The unique program combines both classroom education and lots of hands-on opportunities on many of the nearby large dairies. Sponsored by several industry giants, including Zoetis, Pioneer, Farm Credit and more, it offers numerous opportunities for internships and future employment.

“I went to the first session and fell in love with dairy,” says Cooper. “[For me] it’s really declarable; there’s a whole lot of science to it; there’s intensive management to it.” It’s a rigorous six days a week of both in-class lectures and on-farm training. Similar to college education, the consortium covers a broad range of topics, including reproduction, mastitis detection and treatment, genetics and nutrition.

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The first session, designed for attendees without any previous dairy experience, set him on the course for an internship with Harry DeWit on Blue Sky Farms. Cooper spent his five-month internship working with the herdsmen and managers. His experience gave him the opportunity to work at multiple herd locations with different cow and heifer herds, ranging from 3,000 head to over 10,000. In keeping with his interests and prior education, he spent much of his time in the fresh cow, sick cow and maternity pens.

Dan Cooper and mom at Blue Sky Farms

“It’s gratifying,” he says, “seeing a sick animal get well knowing you had a part in it.” He credits his time spent at the consortium as contributing to his success in the internship. It provided him with everything he needed to adapt to the working environment.

Cooper continued onto the second session of the consortium, one that offers more advanced learning. He graduated in June 2017 and looks forward to the dairy career ahead of him. “It was a really great opportunity, especially for somebody who didn’t really have a lot of experience in dairy,” he says. “It was really hands-on, a lot of on-the-job training that you can’t really find anywhere else.” His time there has prepared him to seek out his career; he plans on becoming a full-time herdsman and specialize in managing fresh and sick cows.  end mark

Jaclyn Krymowski is a 2017 Progressive Dairyman editorial intern.

PHOTO 1: Dan Cooper spent time on the fresh/sick cow team at one of the herds, Ridge View Dairy. From left to right is Jaime, Rolando, Mario “Pikachu” and Cooper.

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PHOTO 2: Time at the United States Dairy Education and Training Consortium (USDETC) provided Dan Cooper with lots of hands-on learning experience with the animals.

PHOTO 3: Dan Cooper, pictured with mother, Lori, interned at Blue Sky Farms from January-May 2017. Photos provided by Daniel Cooper.

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