Reader-submitted content: Dairy course offers first-hand experience

Audry Olmsted

When Merel Rodenburg first attended New Mexico State University’s Southern Great Plains Dairy Consortium in Clovis in 2010, she expected to get technical book knowledge to supplement her studies in animal production. What the University of Arizona senior didn’t expect was the intensive hands-on experience she would get — as well as the industry professionals she would connect with.

“This is a very interactive, people-oriented industry. It’s very close-knit,” said Rodenburg, who has just finished the second session of the program. “People from all over the country know each other and work with each other. These are the people you get to know, professionals who are in the field now. There are a lot of students in the class now who are really the future of the dairy industry. If you want to go into this field, you are going to have to see these people over and over again, and really build a relationship with them.”

NMSU’s College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences collaborates with Texas A&M and the University of Arizona to draw students from 11 institutions to create the consortium, which provides leadership, support and resources for education and research in large herd dairy management.

“These students get to know the who’s-who in the industry,” said Robert Hagevoort, NMSU Extension dairy specialist who is co-coordinator of the consortium. “They get to know the companies that have a vested interest in the future of the industry. They build those relationships. We’ve seen several of those relationships come to job positions.”

Kacie Boden, a senior at NMSU, said she wanted to go into veterinary work, focusing on large herd animals, and a mentor guided her to the consortium. The self-proclaimed hands-on learner described her first session as “absolutely phenomenal.”

She said her favorite aspect of the program is “being able to go out to the dairies almost every day and meet with the producers and meet with their workers, and be able to see how they operate. We’ve been able to palpate cows, practice (artificial insemination), and work with tracts within the lab.”

The program is comprised of two six-week summer sessions and an internship. Students can earn up to nine credit hours at their home universities by participating.

Since the program started four years ago, the number of participants has increased from 18 its first year to the 52 who just completed the summer session.

Hagevoort said he would like to see the program continue to grow, which could be a challenge as local people in the dairy industry and sponsors teach the students and provide housing and meals.