By: Hannah Neer
Junior animal science major with a minor in dairy science
As a lifelong resident of Bishop, California, known as a small tourist trap in the Eastern Sierra Mountains, I had no idea what to expect during my summer internship. I worked at Golden Oaks Farm, one of the leading Holstein dairies in the country, nestled away in a little Northern Illinois town; positioned squarely in the heartland. To say my first week in Illinois was a culture shock would be an understatement. I was baffled by the massive amount of Mountain Dew consumed, which was pop and not soda, a humidity index that hovered at 80%, and torrential rain storms the locals just seemed to brush off as normal.
However, I quickly came to realize I was right in my element with dairymen who would happily stay up until 11:30 pm discussing herd genetics and the upcoming alfalfa harvest, then be back in the barn at 5:00 am the next morning taking care of cows.
During the course of my internship, I had the opportunity to work alongside the farm’s herdsmen to maintain the health of Golden Oak’s lactating herd of around 600 registered Holsteins. A typical day would begin in the fresh pen, housing cows for the first month after they have had their calf. These cows are going through a high-risk period for many different metabolic symptoms that coincide with the start of their lactation. We checked these cows to ensure they were not experiencing any problems, such as milk fever, caused by the cow utilizing too much of her blood calcium. If we found any sick cows, we would treat them promptly.
Once all the fresh cows were taken care of, we moved to the main barn to check on cows whose milk production dropped, indicating they may be sick, or cows with spikes in activity that may be in heat and ready to breed by artificial insemination. Golden Oaks, like many farms today, utilize neck collar technology, which can track metrics like activity, rumination (chewing), and milk production to more closely track the health of each cow on the farm. To finish up morning chores, we would treat sick cows in the hospital pen. While many of these cows were not seriously sick, most of them were treated with antibiotics. Keeping these cows in a separate pen ensures the antibiotics used stay out of the saleable milk on the farm.
While I enjoyed developing my cow-sense and herd management skills, one of my favorite aspects of the summer was getting to work with the high genetic cows that call Golden Oaks home. As a member of the Cal Poly dairy judging team, getting to work with these rock stars of the Holstein breed was icing on the cake of a great summer internship.