Real-world Experience via Internship: Mike Hattis
Dept. of Animal Science
The MSU Ag Tech Dairy Management Program is a 1.5-year long program designed to provide students with a basic foundation of knowledge about dairy production and management. Basic principles of dairy nutrition, reproduction, health, business and management, are studied.
An important part of the program is the internship. All students must complete an internship to graduate from the program. Internships have to be a minimum of three months long and cannot be completed on the family farm or any farm a student has worked on for an extended period of time. Students are encouraged to live away from home during the internship, which normally occurs between the first and second year of the program. Almost all Ag Tech dairy internships happen on dairy farms, but other opportunities do exist.
Every effort is made to match each student’s goals and interests with specific internship opportunities. Over 50% of 2011 internships were outside the state of Michigan. The size of herds utilized for internships ranged from 60 cows to over 7,000 cows and represented all types of dairy operations including purebred, commercial, grazing, and organic.
Where did you intern?
I did my internship at Trierweiler Dairy. Trierweiler dairy is a 600-cow dairy located in Westphalia Michigan that farms about 2,000 acres.
What was your prior experience?
My prior experience consisted of working on a 90-cow dairy throughout high school. This dairy is owned by Gene Schneider. He farms about 300 acres. I also had worked at Trierweiler dairy for 5 months before my internship.
What were your responsibilities as an intern?
I was basically an assistant herdsman. I would breed cows, diagnose and treat sick cows, dry off cows, do vaccinations, help the heifer manager with calves and heifers, move cattle between groups and anything else a herdsman would do. I also would do a lot of tractor driving. This included hauling manure, hauling wagons for chopping, and doing some feeding of TMR to dairy cows. If there was any other job on the farm I could help with, I would do that too.
In what ways was the farm you interned at similar and different from farms to which you are accustomed to?
The farm was different in the sense that it was a bigger farm. There were also a lot more protocols for different things compared to the smaller farm I worked at before. Trierweiler dairy milked 3 times a day but the smaller farm only milked twice a day. Trierweiler had many employees that specialized in one thing on the farm; for example, the herdsman mostly dealt with the cows. On Gene's farm, it was small enough where one person could do anything.
What did you learn from your internship?
I basically learned how to be a herdsman on a dairy on my internship. When I got done with my internship, I was offered a full time position at Trierweiler managing their 200-cow dairy that was just up and running.
What were your expectations before the internship? How did they differ from reality?
I guess I didn't really have many expectations due to the fact that I had been working there already. One thing though was that I wanted to learn how to breed cows and become good at it. Bryant and Keith, the cow guys there, taught me everything I know about breeding cows. I would consider myself a very good breeder today, so my one expectation was met.
What general advice would you give to future interns?
My advice to future interns is to do the best job you possibly can. Your internship could actually turn into a job interview. Also I think that most interns should go someplace different from their previous experiences. I didn't do that because I didn't want to be far away from home. I don't regret doing my internship at Trierweiler, but I wish I would have interned in a different state and saw seen dairy farming from a different perspective.
What specific aspects of the internship would you recommend to would-be interns?
I don't really have any specific aspects to recommend. I will say this; make sure your internship is something you want to do. If you want to work with cows, then make sure you go to a big (say, 1,000-cow) dairy. If you want to do a variety of things, then do an internship on a 200-cow dairy. Most importantly have fun.
What are you doing now?
Currently I am the feed/crop manager at Simon Dairy farm. I do some of the planting for the dairy farm and almost all of the field work. I also haul a lot of manure and help out where ever I need to. I breed some cows and heifers on their farm.
Michigan Dairy Review is published and mailed to all Michigan dairy farmers and individuals working in allied industries. With its ever increasing on-line presence, the MDR target audience has spread beyond Michigan and the U.S.; today electronic subscribers are located in places such as Australia, The Scandinavia, Italy, Mexico, Ireland, Peru, and New Zealand.
The MDR is the primary communications vehicle for research findings, extension programming, and teaching between faculty and staff in MSU dairy programs and the dairy industry. The MDR web site is paid for by the C. E. Meadows Endowment.