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Students prepare for future through on-farm internships

Progressive Dairyman writer Michael Cox Published on 11 September 2015

Victoria MacateeSchool’s back in session, but this summer the next generation of veterinarians, nutritionists and dairy farmers honed their dairy skills through on-farm summer internships.

This past summer, several college students were matched with progressive dairy farms across the Pennsylvania and Delaware region through the Pennsylvania Center of Dairy Excellence (CDE) on-farm internship program.



A unique feature of the CDE internship requires students to carry out a “project” of their choice on the host farm. During the summer, Progressive Dairyman caught up with seven of the students to discuss their internships and project work.

  • Molly Rogus is an animal science sophomore at Penn State University. Her childhood dream has been to become a large-animal veterinarian. Rogus is not from a farming background and applied for this internship to gain practical experience in the dairy industry, which will be advantageous to her veterinary career. Her host farm was Vista Grande Farm in Fleetwood, Pennsylvania, which milks 180 cows twice daily.

  • A city girl from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Victoria Macatee became interested in agriculture through FFA and 4-H during her high school years at WB Saul High School. She recently graduated from Delaware Valley University with a major in livestock science and management, and interned at the 500-cow Green Acres Dairy Farm in Lewes, Delaware.

  • Noah Gesford is a junior at Delaware Valley University, also majoring in livestock science and management, with a minor in dairy science. Coming from the tourist town of Hershey, Pennsylvania, Noah had very little farming experience growing up; his family’s 65-acre farm has always been rented out.

    He became involved with dairying as a college freshman and is eager to make up time and learn as much as possible during his CDE internship. Noah has a contagious passion for agriculture, saying, “I love animals, especially pigs and cows.” Noah interned as assistant herdsman on the 450-cow Kish-View Farm in Belleville, Pennsylvania.

  • Kelley Jay, an animal science junior at Penn State University, comes from a strong farming background, having grown up on Jay Rolling Hill Farm in Artemas, Pennsylvania. Kelley was an intern on the 600-cow Penn Wood Farm in Somerset, Pennsylvania.

  • Penn State animal science senior Rebecca Klopp originally had plans to become a veterinarian. Since learning more about dairying through her involvement with the Dairy Science Club, Block and Bridle Club, Meats Judging Team and the Agricultural Student Council at Penn State, the Berks County native has changed her focus to become a dairy herdswoman. She worked at Hetrickdale Farm in Bernville, Pennsylvania, where they milk 950 cows.

  • Lindsay Stover studies animal science at Penn State University. She grew up on a small hobby farm in Centre County, Pennsylvania, but her main agricultural experience has been through 4-H, where she showed pigs and goats. In recent years, she has worked with a neighboring dairy farm. Lindsay’s internship was based with the 870-cow Walmoore Holsteins in Chester County, Pennsylvania.

  • Tara Kaltenbach is a senior animal science student at Delaware Valley University. From Alburtis, Pennsylvania, she became interested in agriculture through her neighbors’ farm. Her interest in dairy cows grew after working with a local dairyman and joining the university pre-vet club. Her host farm, Kurtland Farms, Elverson, Pennsylvania, milks 330 cows through four Lely robots and a tiestall parlor.

Editor’s note: The students provided responses to these questions during the middle of their internship experiences.

Noah Gesford

Describe your internship duties.

ROGUS: As I have no prior farm experience, I’m doing a little bit of everything, from milking to feeding calves to learning about nutrition.

MACATEE: Every morning, I check the pens for cows in heat. After that, I tend to the hospital pen cows. The regular staff milk the main herd, so it is my responsibility to milk cows in the hospital pen and treat any cows as necessary. In the afternoon, I help with various jobs such as breeding, processing and feeding calves, and also the occasional emergency Cesarean section.


GESFORD: Most of my time is taken up with the fresh cows: We check their temperatures daily for 10 days; we check for metritis, fevers, rumen fill, etc. Any cows that are sick get a shot of antibiotics or an alfalfa drench if she’s off her food.

We also use the DairyComp 305 package, so all animal health and breeding records are updated into the computer daily. I’ve learned a lot about animal health on this internship; it’s an area that gets a lot of attention here at Kish-View Farm.

JAY: My daily duties involve working with the herdswoman, attending to fresh cows and milking in the afternoon. The farm also has a herd of show cows that require a bit more pampering. I’m getting a different perspective on how to identify and treat sick cows here at Penn Wood Farm. They do things a little differently to my home farm, especially watching for ketosis and milk fever during the first few days post-calving.

KLOPP: My first task every day involves the special-needs barn. Fresh, post-fresh, lame and sick cows are housed here. If any calves have been born during the night, I feed them colostrum and move them to the hutches.

I usually milk the special-needs cows and use the SNAP test to ensure cows that received antibiotic treatment are completely clear of residues before they join the main herd. In the afternoon, I’m free to do jobs such as dehorning calves using a gas dehorner, paperwork or ear-notching calves for the BVD test.

STOVER: The first port of call is to check paperwork and pick out sick cows that need more treatment. There’s such a broad spectrum of work here at Walmoore Holsteins from fieldwork to tagging calves to assessing nutrition, that every day throws up different jobs.


KALTENBACH: My role as assistant herd manager mainly involves calving and fresh cow care. I also help with calf processing, vaccinations and general herd health.

What is the biggest thing you’ve learned to date?

ROGUS: I’m learning the art of patience. Cows are unpredictable; some days they can be frustrating, and the next day they act like angels. It’s interesting to recognize their normal behavior and how that changes when they’re sick or in heat. My milking skills have definitely improved too. Milking is not as simple as it looks, and I’m getting better at noticing if a cow is fully milked out or if she needs more time.

Lindsay StoverMACATEE: The herd health program and treatments have been a huge learning curve. I now have experience in everything from milk fever to hardware disease. My breeding skills have also improved. I did an A.I. course last spring, and it’s a big help to get regular practice on cows each week. Every day is different, and I’m learning new things all the time; it’s great.

GESFORD: My time management skills are getting better; it’s a busy farm, and you need to watch the clock to keep everything flowing smoothly. I’m taking a summer class too, so I’m learning how to get the elusive work/study/life balance. An interesting part of my work is learning how to adjust things on the fly, like how much feed to give the fresh cow pen depending on how many cows are there today.

JAY: On the human side, working with staff is a new experience for me. This is my first time working with non-family members. On the cow side, Penn Wood Farm uses more in-depth treatments than we use back home. I’ve picked up different ways of treating illnesses, which will help me in the future.

KLOPP: I didn’t realize there was so much work involved in keeping track of the herd. There are some jobs repeated weekly, and as the farm has 3,200 head in total, it’s important to have good records. One skill I have developed is blood drawing from calves. It can be tricky to find the jugular, especially if the calf is being wriggly.

STOVER: I’m learning to remember what I’m learning until I have a chance to write it down. When I’m busy milking or calving, the herdsman will be explaining things and giving tips, but I have to try and remember all the little gems of wisdom until I can write them down later in the day.

KALTENBACH: Picking up signs of illness in cows and calves has probably been my biggest area of improvement. The data recorded from the robots is very useful as a guide to identifying sick cows in the herd. But I also look out for the visible signs such as drooped ears, a dull coat, dull eyes, etc.

Describe a rewarding aspect of your work.

ROGUS: I really like treating sick cows. Last week, we treated one cow with coliform mastitis. I administered the IV fluids drip to keep her hydrated. We move her daily to keep circulation going in her legs, and she’s slowly improving day by day.

MACATEE: I find it rewarding to meet members of the public. Green Acres has a family creamery on-site called Hopkins Creamery, where we sell ice cream made from the cows’ milk. We get people stopping in for ice cream on the way to the beach, and they can view our calving pens from the creamery. We usually have an audience when there’s a cow calving, so it’s rewarding to speak with the young kids and explain what’s happening.

GESFORD: It might sound like a cliché, but the most rewarding thing for me is learning. I’ve worked on smaller farms before, but the transition to a large farm is allowing me to learn new things. It’s my first time learning about practical disease control and prevention on a large farm, and it’s cool to learn how to identify and treat sick and lame cows.

JAY: The best part of work is when a healthy heifer calf hits the ground. That’s always a special moment.

KLOPP: I love working with the animals. At school, you’re stuck in class and rarely get to see cows, so it’s nice to be around them. It’s also a nice feeling to see a calf that was on death’s door now up and healthy after getting treatment.

Molly RogusSTOVER: My most rewarding experience was giving a cow an IV drip. It was my first time to do that procedure, and I think it’s a pretty neat trick.

KALTENBACH: Fresh cows! Fresh cows are my favorite animals to work with. I enjoy prepping them for milking before they join the main herd. Plus, they give me calves.

Discuss your internship project.

ROGUS: My internship project is to create and update standard operation procedures for the farm. I’m working with management to set up SOPs for milking, turning cows in and out, calf care and fresh cow care.

MACATEE: My project involves writing SOPs for the various tasks on-farm. Most of the staff are Hispanic, and sometimes there’s miscommunication and details gets lost in translation. I’m writing SOPs in Spanish and English for milking, calf feeding and processing calves.

GESFORD: The aim of my project is to improve milking efficiency. We currently milk three times a day, and it takes 5.5 hours to milk 440 cows through a 12 double-sided parlor. For the project, one person will bring smaller groups of cows to the parlor and scrape down the cubicles. The second person will do all the milking. We hope the improved efficiency and less time away from feed will have a positive effect on milk yield.

JAY: I’m assessing the genomic analysis of the cows against their performance on the farm. The project aims to see if a cow’s genetic figures match up to how she is milking in reality. I took tissue samples from 50 cows, and I am tracking their performance.

Penn Wood Farm has always bred for milk and type; however, some cows may be performing better or worse than their figures should suggest. We’ve already identified some high milkers with low genetic figures, so it will be interesting to get the final results at the end of my internship.

KLOPP: Before I arrived on-farm, there were problems with total protein count in young calves. My project involves blood-testing calves at 3 days old and trying new products to improve protein levels in the calves. I’ve been allowed to trial the StressMate drench, an E. coli bolus and a Multimin drench on the calves.

The replacement heifer calves are being fed powder colostrum replacer for the first time, too. All other calves get colostrum that is above 22 on the refractometer. The most recent blood tests have shown an improvement to above the recommended 5.5 g per dL total protein count, but we’ll continue the program and look at the results at the end.

STOVER: My project has two parts: The first is to assess the height and weight of heifers, and the second is to reduce variation in diet mix. The heifers will be assessed to see if they are in the correct range for their age. We hope to produce a more even group of heifers, as we can identify the very tall and very light heifers.

Rebecca KloppFor the diet project, the new feed-watch program on the feed wagon will tell the operators the exact amounts of each ingredient in the wagon rather than going by eye. At the moment, various operators mix the diet, and this leads to variation. We hope the new system will give a more consistent diet.

KALTENBACH: My project is focusing on colostrum quality and its effect on calves. The colostrum quality is measured with a colostrometer, and all high-quality colostrum is pasteurized. Heifers that receive this high-quality pasteurized colostrum remain in a separate group from heifers fed normal colostrum.

Although the project is not completed, we have seen an improvement in health and blood total protein count in the heifers fed pasteurized colostrum. We hope to track these heifers through to their second lactation, as I believe pasteurized colostrum and good health can have positive effects on lifetime performance.

Below are additional responses not seen in print:

What has impressed you about the farm and staff?

ROGUS: The capability of the staff has been impressive. They have to deal with crops, feeding, calving, milking, fresh cow care – the list goes on. But all this work is done with proper time and effort applied. The herdswoman, Becky Hyvee, is great for answering all my questions and giving me advice about career development.

MACATEE: I’m impressed by the cows’ milk yield. Last year I did the national dairy challenge and saw big herds using bST, but here at Green Acres the cows are almost on the same high yield of more than 110 pounds per day with no bST. I guess that’s a reflection of the attention to detail by the staff.

GESFORD: The farm staff have been incredibly helpful and encouraging. The herdsman, feeders, calf rearers and milkers are all willing to help me out and teach me along the way. Most of the staff are Hispanic, so my Spanish is slowly getting better too.

JAY: The herdsman has impressed me. He makes sure I’m working hands-on and actually learning rather than just observing the other workers.

KLOPP: The staff at Hetrickdale Farm are extremely passionate and don’t take any shortcuts. They do the job right, and everyone is focused on keeping the animals in top shape. I also like the fact that the herdsman and owners are very open to new ideas. There’s enough leeway to allow staff to try new products or methods that could improve herd health.

STOVER: I’m impressed by how personable the farm staff is. Even though they milk 870 cows, the workers know most of the cows. After a few weeks of work, it now feels like home. Everyone has been very welcoming.

KALTENBACH: I am impressed by how smoothly the robot system operates. The huge amount of data it generates is also impressive.

After college, do you plan to work in the dairy industry?

ROGUS: My plan is to go to vet school after college. I grew up with horses and always wanted to be an equine vet, but during this internship I’m thinking more and more about switching to large-animal practice and working with dairies.

MACATEE: As I’ve just graduated, I want to work on dairy farms for the next few years and build up my experience. My goal is to become a herd manager, so I may need to get further education down the line.

GESFORD: My long-term plan is to have my own dairy farm. After college, I’ll probably work as assistant herdsman before moving up to herdsman and eventually buying my own dairy.

JAY: Post-graduation, I’ll return to my dairy farm at home and hopefully take over from my dad after a few years.

KLOPP: I definitely want to work in the dairy industry. I’m particularly interested in calf and heifer nutrition, so this might lead me to university or company research in the future.

STOVER: I hope to become a herd manager after I finish college. This internship has been a huge help in learning the practical application of my college coursework.

KALTENBACH: I will graduate after the fall semester, and I hope to secure a herd manager position with a local herd. I am also applying to vet school for the 2016 fall semester. But either way, I want to work with cows.  PD

Michael Cox was a 2015 Progressive Dairyman editorial intern.

PHOTO 1: Victoria Macatee is originally a city girl from Philadelphia. Her internship was on a 500-cow dairy in Delaware. Photo courtesy of Victoria Macatee.

PHOTO 2: Noah Gesford spent his summer at Kish View Farms in Belleville, Pennsylvania. Photo courtesy of Noah Gesford.

PHOTO 3: Lindsay Stover was able to experience a variety of duties and on-the-job training at Walmoore Holsteins this summer. Photo courtesy of Lindsay Stover.

PHOTO 4: Molly Rogus plans to become a large animal veterinarian. Photo courtesy of Molly Rogus.

PHOTO 5: Rebecca Klopp’s summer internship project involved blood-testing calves at 3 days old and trying new products to improve protein levels in the calves. Photo courtesy of Rebecca Klopp.