by Enrico Villamaino
Madison Jaslar recently became the beneficiary of a program jointly sponsored by the Dairy Excellence Foundation, the Professional Dairy Managers of Pennsylvania and the PA Dairymen’s Association. These organizations are placing college students pursuing careers in dairy production in on-farm summer internships throughout the Keystone State.
The program was created 10 years ago to provide hands-on learning experience to a new generation of farmers. “These on-farm internships are one of the best ways for college students to be exposed to all aspects of dairy production. We work carefully to pair interns with host farms to ensure the internship experiences are tailored to each student’s specific career goals,” said Heidi Zimmerman, events and programs coordinator at the Center for Dairy Excellence. Students who are accepted into the program must be enrolled in a PA-based college or be a PA resident attending an out-of-state college. Recently graduated PA residents with an interest in dairy production are also eligible. Farms looking to host the program’s interns may be located either in or out of state, but producers must agree to provide the intern with exposure to all aspects of running a dairy operation. Selected interns receive a $3,000 grant to help fund their work at their assigned farms.
Jaslar, an undergraduate studying dairy science at Delaware Valley University in Doylestown, has been placed for 12 weeks at Darkhorse Farm in Perkasie, PA. Jimmy Harris is the owner and operator of Darkhorse Farm. The farm was founded by his parents in 1964. After studying dairy science at the University of Wisconsin at Platteville, Harris and his wife Brenda eventually took over the family operation. “We have 70 milking cows on about 70 acres,” Harris explained. “We produce around 26,000 pounds annually, which gets distributed through the Dairy Farmers of America cooperative. Then we also have about 300 acres of grass hay, 100 acres of corn and 100 acres of alfalfa and grass mix.” He said that while the farm’s busy season runs from mid-May through September, “these cows are there 365 days a year. There are no days off from that!” Jaslar’s internship runs from May to August.
According to Harris, Jaslar is involved in all aspects of calf care and health. She is charged with helping Harris and Darkhorse Farm’s one part-time employee in milking the herd, general livestock care and monitoring the progress of the calves. “Through this internship,” she said, “I’m aiming to broaden my scope of knowledge about dairy farm operations to help with my future endeavors in the industry.” She added that while she didn’t grow up on a farm and came to this internship with little experience in working in an agricultural setting, she has quickly immersed herself in Darkhorse Farm’s daily routine. “I’ve been very busy!”
During the internship program, Jaslar will also be conducting a research project that both connects to her career interests and benefits the dairy farm’s operation. “With specific interests in animal nutrition and youngstock care, I will have the opportunity to complete research to explore these topics,” she explained. She is currently spending the summer monitoring the effects of adding extra doses of milk into the diet of certain calves. “We want to see how the additional milk can affect both their overall growth and the rate of that growth. There is also the issue of how the supplementary helpings of milk can change the calves’ demeanor, whether or not more milk can make calves more sluggish, less active and alert.” Jaslar reported that thus far, when the more assertive and aggressive calves were given the auxiliary servings of milk, they did not seem to suffer any negative behavioral changes.
Like all interns in the program, she will present her findings in August at the conclusion of the program.
Harris has been pleased with his experience with the scholarship program and said he would gladly host interns in the future. He stressed that the program is most successful and beneficial to everyone involved when care is taken to match the right students with the right dairy operation. “It really works out well when you know just what the intern has, in terms of hands-on experience, and what it is exactly that they’re looking to learn.”