If cows in California really are happy, then Peter Yoder worked in a joyous place this past summer. At the Nyman Brothers Dairy farm in Hilmar, Calif., he gained experience in all aspects of the dairy industry and learned just what goes into making the cows content in the nation's No. 1 dairy state.
Yoder is not a novice when it comes to dairy farms. He grew up working on his family's farm in Belleville, Pa. Before graduating from Penn State last December with a bachelor's degree in animal sciences and a minor in agribusiness management, he was a member of Penn State's Dairy Science Club and Collegiate Farm Bureau.
Yoder's internship in central California was run through the Hilmar Dairy Internship Program. "Hilmar cheese is the largest privately owned cheese plant," he said. "Nyman Brothers Dairy is just one of the farms that Hilmar owns."
The goal of the internship was to provide experience, explained Yoder, and experience is what he got. The dairy farm on which he worked had 2,500 jersey cows, and throughout the summer he learned what it took to handle them. "I was introduced to many responsibilities of the dairy farm, including environmental, nutritional and financial aspects," he said.
"My favorite thing about the internship was just working there and observing the efficiencies," he said. "One technique the operation used was radio-frequency identification technology. By electronically scanning the ear tags on the cows, the workers can keep track of the herd's health and identify each animal."
Yoder also interacted with the manager and owner of the farm, allowing him to gain more insights into the business. "Dairy is a challenging industry," he said. "To provide healthy products to the population, it needs to change all the time."
However, it was not just the quality of the product that Nyman Brothers Dairy took into account. "The company strongly believes it needs a good image with consumers," he said. "Because of that, the farm also concentrated on issues such as animal welfare."
Yoder had one day off per week, and that day usually was spent touring the city of San Francisco, visiting parks or surfing the California waves. He also mingled with California's diverse cultures. While there, he even got to sample some authentic Mexican foods, including one memorable dish composed of cow intestines.
To Yoder, interning in an unfamiliar location was important. "It gives you a different perspective and allows you to explore the country," he said.
Yoder now is enrolled in the Dairy Nutrition and Economics graduate program at Ohio State University. In the future, he hopes to own his own dairy farm.