I chose to use my STEP funding to finance moving to Kewaunee, Wisconsin for three months this past summer for my internship at Hall’s Calf Ranch. I chose this internship because it was a very large dairy heifer calf operation that would give me valuable real-world industry experience with dairy calves as I am pursuing a degree in veterinary medicine all while living on my own more than a half hour away from home for the first time. There were two large aspects of my internship that contributed to my “transformational experience;” the internship itself which was phenomenal and, without a doubt, will help me with my future skills in the field of food animal veterinary medicine as well as the opportunity to gain real-life skills that accompanied my first “adult” experience. I believe learning in a classroom is important but the hands-on learning from an internship like mine is invaluable.
At Hall’s Calf Ranch, my daily jobs included bottle-feeding and bucket training newborn calves that are picked up daily from about 30 farms in a 60 mile radius of the ranch. I regularly vaccinated 2 day old calves with a nasal injection of Inforce and fed electrolytes to sick calves that the farm’s Treaters indicated. I was taught to pull blood samples from calves as every calf that arrives at the farm has its blood protein levels read and recorded. I tagged new calves, banded tails, loaded and unloaded hundreds of calves from trailers, washed a billion buckets, dumped wet grain after it rained, worked one-on-one with the veterinarian, observed calf necropsies, washed some more buckets, helped give IVs, learned to drive the 24-foot calf trailer and truck, picked up a lot of Spanish, worked on several research trials, and washed even more buckets. Best of all, I met and worked with/for some really incredible people that made my experience better than I could have imagined.
With all of the skills and practice I acquired by working at the farm, I feel more confident in my understanding of different facets of the dairy industry. I thought I had a pretty functional understanding from my past employment on a dairy farm and being a very active member and executive officer of the Buckeye Dairy Club, but this internship showed me that there is so much more out there to learn. The dairy industry is a multi-faceted farming industry that revolves around the reproductive cycles of dairy cattle. Put simply, a cow is bred and becomes pregnant, carries the pregnancy for 280-285 days, gives birth/calves (which induces lactation, aka milk production), then the cow gets milked for human consumption and the calf is taken away for close observation and care to ensure the best growth possible. Heifer, or female, calves are kept and raised to become new milk cows when they are about two years old. They grow for about a year and then are bred for the first time when they are about 12 months old, which results in them calving and starting milk production around 20-24 months of age. Bull, or male, calves are raised for meat. Dairy farms often sell bull calves to specific bull calf grower farms so they can focus on milk production. This is how the typical dairy farm works.
At Hall’s Calf Ranch, the focus is only on calf-raising. By doing this, large dairy farms can send their calves away to be looked after more closely and therefore better focus on their own milk production and the health of the adult cows. Before this internship, I had never thought about the workings of a “calf ranch” and how they may be beneficial to the dairy industry. With my previous experience milking cows at a small local dairy and learning about dairy farms through other opportunities at OSU, I felt like a well-rounded dairy-focused student. My experience with the calf ranch showed me that there is always something new to learn! A calf ranch specializes in calf care and therefore put all their efforts into raising a strong, healthy calf for dairy farmers and I am proud that I got to be a part of that and learn its inner workings which will be a valuable understanding some day as a veterinarian if I am working with clients who own calf operations. Taking part in this internship helped me open my mind a little bit more and help me achieve a new level of excitement and wonder for the career I am pursuing.
By spending 11-12 hours a day at Hall’s feeding, moving, and observing calves varying from one day old to six months old, I learned how to identify a sick animal and what should be done to treat it. I learned the importance of cleaning equipment and having a systematic approach to managing a large workforce (especially one that is not entirely fluent in English). Even more importantly, I learned how to be self-motivated for a cause I am truly passionate about. I have always been a passionate and dedicated hard-worker but I like to follow directions when accomplishing a task, whether they are written or explained. This is not a bad thing, but as a future veterinarian I would like to see myself become more trusting of my own decisions. This summer, I was self-appointed to the care of heat-stressed and premature calves on the farm during the hottest weeks of the summer and I would humbly say that without my care those calves may not have survived. This further ignited my passion for animal care and medicine because I was able to see the positive results of my endeavors and the negative results of calves not helped in time. The calves I nurtured through the extreme August heat pulled through and were able to be returned to the part of the farm with the healthy calves. I think that this internship gave me another view of the job I could have in my future as Hall’s is looking to hire a managing veterinarian in the next few years – a position I would love to consider later in my life.
The second transformational part of my experience came from my living situation in a house provided by my boss with another intern during my internship. This was the first time I lived on my own further than thirty minutes away from my parents and it gave me extremely valuable life experiences through maintaining a yard and home, living with a person I did not know prior to moving to Wisconsin, and getting to know a new area by myself. It was my job to grocery shop, plan, and prepare my own meals. Living on my own for the first time gave me the chance to experience “the real world” and practice being an adult, which certainly has its perks and challenges. I worked at the farm seven days a week and did almost all of the cleaning of the house the other intern and I shared. I also took it upon myself to learn to drive the riding lawnmower we were provided to mow the lawn with. I found a love for cooking and a great appreciation for maintaining a household, which is something I know I will be glad I learned in the future when I have my own family.
By learning life lessons from this experience, I have found myself transitioning much easier to living off-campus for school this year. I firmly believe that a stable home life is one of the first steps towards success for any person – both emotional support and physical comfort. I know that my ability to take care of myself and my home makes me more comfortable while I am at school and I worry less about things that need done at home than I do about my school work and studies. I believe this is one of my keys to success at OSU and my practice of maintaining a home from this summer gives me confidence that I will have greater success with my academics and school involvement this semester and the rest of my college career.
Overall, through the direct work experience at my internship, the relationship skills I acquired from working with a variety of people, and learning how to be an adult by living on my own, I had an incredible summer and could certainly call it a transformational experience. I feel as though I have grown as a person and responsible adult all while making great strides towards my ultimate career goal of being a food animal veterinarian working in the dairy industry. I am beyond grateful for all of the opportunities I have been given through the dairy industry, Hall’s Calf Ranch, The Ohio State University, and the STEP program.