Animal Science Interns
Gaining real-world experience
Growing up on a beef farm in Lawrence, Nicole Beeching knew she wanted to stay involved in animal agriculture, but wasn’t always clear on how she could do it. With industry trends moving toward larger farms her dream of running a small operation didn’t seem very forward-thinking, and outside of operating a farm or veterinary practice, the options appeared limited.
But after her experiences as an Animal Science student at Michigan State University, and especially the internship she completed with Cargill Nutrition last summer working directly with farmers and animal nutritionists, Beeching sees a lot more possibilities for her future.
“I thought the only way I’d be able to work with animals every day was to own a farm or be a vet,” she said, “but then I came here and did a few Dairy Challenges and learned that there are a lot of other things out there and the internship solidified that for me.”
Beeching’s internship with Cargill lasted from May through August. She spent approximately half her internship working regularly with four consultants, visiting four or five farms per day, talking with producers, and making recommendations about nutrition and cow comfort issues. The other half she spent working on a time and feeding efficiency project. Both of these projects gave her a unique opportunity to see the work she had done in MSU classrooms brought to life.
“I guess I didn’t understand how much went into being a feed consultant. I guess I thought it would be boring to go out and look at feed and take samples but there’s so much more to it, it was never boring” she said. “We always talk about what to put in a ration to change milk production or milk fat percentage but to be able to go onto a farm and make that change and go back and see it the next week solidified that, ‘okay, this really works.’”
The Human Aspect
Next to challenging her to pay attention to more facets of farm management than she’d earlier considered, her internship with Cargill allowed her to fine-tune her people skills. Meeting with four dairy producers in a single day requires developing four different relationships, and understanding four sets of needs. “They really appreciate it if you take the time to talk to them. They appreciate that you’ve got to talk with them and establish a relationship and I really enjoyed that.”
Like Beeching, fellow Animal Science student Laura Zeldenrust knew she wanted to work in animal agriculture, but when she became involved in the Dairy Challenge Team at Michigan State University, she did not know the connections she made there would shape her professional goals.
Through the Dairy Challenge, Zeldenrust met Bill Earley, Dairy Business Manager for ADM Alliance Nutrition. Students are encouraged to explore internship opportunities and build relationships with companies on their own, and Zeldenrust’s conversations with Earley eventually led to her experience as a summer intern with ADM Alliance Nutrition, learning more about a side of dairying she hadn’t given much thought to previously.
She spent the early weeks of last summer at ADM Headquarters in Illinois, then filled out the rest of her summer in Michigan, working with other nutritionists and making farm visits that she said were as much about people skills as Animal Science.
“The main thing I learned came through meeting and getting to communicate with different types of people and the business aspect of dairying,” she said. “I think maybe I learned more about business than nutrition.”
Discovering the Dairy Industry
Before she was born her parents ran a dairy and Zeldenrust has always had an interest in dairying. A senior at Michigan State University, she saw a summer internship as one way to broaden her experiences and get a closer look at the relationship between dairy producers and allied-industry professionals, possibly with an eye on future work in the dairy industry.
A large part of Zeldenrust’s work with ADM Alliance Nutrition involved facilitating a survey of dairy producers the company could use to guide their efforts. She said meeting with producers about the survey was not initially easy, but that as she gained experience and learned how to interact effectively with different clients, it became rewarding.
“My job was just to stop out there and I had a producer survey I would do to get an idea of the producers in the area,” she said. “I got onto the farms and talked to people and saw what they were doing in their operations. We were looking at things like the size of farms and also information on any industry trends. Last summer high feed prices were on everyone’s mind.”
Building Young Leaders
Earley said that in addition to the experience surveying, ADM Alliance Nutrition worked to give Zeldenrust a broad experience that spoke to her specific interests. She did ride-alongs with nutritionists, and had the opportunity to network with several large animal veterinary facilities.
Earley said internships, at least for ADM Alliance Nutrition, focus on creating future nutrition professionals. Even as the internships conclude, there is a recap and review aimed at helping both the intern and company make the most of the experience. “We want to make sure we’re on target with our internships and make sure there are opportunities for the student to learn and grow across the project and learn what roles the nutritionist plays,” Earley said.
“In any business whether agriculture or any other business, success is predicated upon good people. So, we want to do what we can to expose up and coming students to the opportunities available in animal agriculture. We help them gain appreciation for the breadth nutrition plays on the farm and utilize all the skills they learn at Michigan State whether they be reproduction, animal nutrition or animal health.”
For Beeching, being part of that process involved rethinking not only what she’d learned in school, but also what opportunities are available to her after she graduates.
“In my internship, I saw the practical application of what I learned in school and learned that being a nutrition consultant is about a lot more than feed,” she said. “You have to look at everything on the farm.”
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