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Illinois dairy provides learning opportunity to students

PD Editor Emily Caldwell Published on 31 October 2011

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(Click here to listen to the online exclusive audio interview with past intern Jackie Florent.)

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Golden Oaks Farm in Wauconda, Illinois, is known for a high-quality genetics program – including work in embryo transfer – in both the Holstein and Red and White breeds.

In fact, nearly 70 percent of the herd is registered, which is fairly atypical for a dairy of its size. The milking herd consists of about 625 animals with an additional 600 youngstock raised at the farm.

Located on the outskirts of Chicago, the farm also regularly hosts tours, not only for cow family enthusiasts but also for the general public, including local schools.

Given the farm’s multi-faceted success, it’s hardly a surprise that more than 20 college and graduate students, nationwide and abroad, have taken advantage of the farm’s internship program.

The program is named in honor of the late John Crown, a man who believed in the importance of investing in the future, both through the genetics of the herd and the management of the operation, says past intern and now full-time herdsman Ethan Heinzmann.

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The Crown family owns Golden Oaks Farm, along with several other businesses in the Chicago area. John’s son, Bill, relies on a management team of five as well as 10 other employees involved in the milking, feeding and cropping aspects of the operation.

Students selected for the internship receive a salary, housing, a scholarship for tuition reimbursement and, most importantly, valuable life skills for managing a dairy.

“We try to tailor the internship to match the students’ interests and future goals,” Heinzmann says. “I always ask them the first day if there’s something specific they’d like to learn while they’re here, along with the full grasp of the business."

"So whether that’s the marketing of the genetics, or working with somatic cell count and milk quality management, or reproduction, we try to help them focus in on the area they think they’re heading.”

Students are also encouraged to attend seminars and conferences with the Golden Oaks staff and have the opportunity to receive special training, like in embryo transfer work.

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Heinzmann was actually the first intern in 1998 and joined the operation full-time in 2000. He has kept in touch with many of the students, saying that most of them went on to be involved in the dairy industry in their careers, whether back on their home farms, as a veterinarian or in some type of allied-industry field.

Another past intern, Amy Miller, also joined Golden Oaks full-time after graduating from Penn State in 2010.

About three years ago, Golden Oaks began working with MAST International, an exchange program through the University of Minnesota that provides students with international opportunities in agriculture.

Heinzmann says the farm has had two students from Germany, one from Brazil and two from Colombia, one of whom is the most recent intern, Cristian Gongora.

Gongora was trained as a veterinarian in Colombia and says he has benefitted most from being able to work with fresh cow health alongside the farm’s vet.

“I’ve also been impressed with the genetic management they have,” he says. “I didn’t know much about U.S. genetics before working here.”

After completing his six-month internship at Golden Oaks, Gongora plans to complete a spring semester at the University of Minnesota and eventually serve as a veterinarian in Colombia or Ecuador.

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But the internship program doesn’t just benefit the students. Heinzmann says having students work at the farm for a few months is a great way to gain new perspective from a fresh set of eyes.

“Having people come here who are highly intelligent, motivated and eager to learn is really rewarding for me,” he says. “It’s fun working with students with new ideas and skill sets. It kind of relights the fire in those of us who have been here a while.”

Heinzmann says he is especially inspired by the students who ask a lot of questions during their internship experience.

“You can tell the wheels are always spinning in their mind,” he says. “They’re trying to translate in their head from what we’re doing to what they’ll apply to their farm or their career.”

One such student was Eldon “Sam” Mackinson, now a senior at the University of Illinois. Mackinson applied for the program, partly because his older brother, Rayme, completed the internship a few years earlier and partly because he wanted to learn about large herd management with a focus on genetics.

After he graduates in May, Mackinson plans to return to the family farm, where he and Rayme plan to expand the milking herd from 60 to 140 and, eventually, to a larger scale of 650 cows. He says the internship experience at Golden Oaks provided him with hands-on knowledge that he’ll, be able to put to use during his farm’s expansion.

“One of the biggest benefits was seeing how they raise their own youngstock, both from an economical standpoint as well as nutritional,” Mackinson says. “That will be helpful as we look at ways to raise our own animals, from the newborn calves all the way up to the milking herd.”

Another past intern applying his experience is Dan Murray, who is earning an MBA at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York.

Murray says one of the most challenging and rewarding aspects of the program is that interns are asked to propose a new business idea that would benefit the operation to the owners and managers.

“It really forces you to think outside the box,” he says. “And for me, it really aided in developing my thought-process and presentation skills. It was a great opportunity to come up with a plan and have to defend it.”

After completing his education, Murray plans to obtain a career in the investment side of the agricultural industry, managing portfolios for agricultural companies.

Murray advises those considering the internship to commit themselves to putting forward their best effort and focusing on their future career goals.

“Expect to be challenged and to work hard,” he says. “You’ll get everything out of it that you put into it.”

Information about the internship is available at the farm’s website, www.goldenoaksfarms.com , or by contacting Heinzmann at PD

PHOTOS
TOP RIGHT: Pictured left to right are: 2011 intern Cristian Gongora, Colombia; 2011 intern Kourtney Hoerbert, Emden, Illinois; 2008 intern and current calf and heifer manager Amy Miller; 1998 intern and current herdsman Ethan Heinzmann.

TOP MIDDLE RIGHT: Intern Cristian Gongora feeds a bottle of colostrum to a newborn calf at Golden Oaks Farm.

BOTTOM RIGHT: Each intern has the opportunity to be pictured with one of the high pedigreed cows at Golden Oaks Farm. A wall in the meeting room at the farm displays each of these photos. Photos courtesy Emily Caldwell.

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Emily Caldwell
East Coast Editor

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