Dairy Veterinary Internship Program Offers Valuable Farm Experience

During her 12-week internship program with the College of Veterinary Medicine, Elizabeth Brehm got to know the back roads of central and northeast Iowa as she traveled from dairy farm to dairy farm.

But, perhaps more importantly, the second-year veterinary medicine student was able to experience first-hand the interaction between veterinarians and dairy farmers in the field.

“It was a wonderful opportunity to interact with farmers on-farm and to learn more about what a dairy vet does,” Brehm says. “This was a much different view of what that interaction looks like than I have previously seen or experienced.”

Brehm participated in the Dairy Veterinary Internship Program (DVIP) in the College of Veterinary Medicine. The program is designed to present short-term, field-based learning situations for interns to gain hands-on practice in dairy production medicine. In addition, the program provides networking opportunities as interns work with future colleagues and dairy veterinarians.

Her project was sponsored by Elanco and looked at gaining a better understanding of the prevalence of early lactation mastitis in dairy cattle. She also focused on understanding practices used by Iowa dairies in regards to prevention and management of the disease.

The 12-week internship required Brehm visit the same 10 different Iowa dairy farms in central and northeast Iowa each week. Mondays she started with one dairy, followed by four dairies on Tuesday, another three on Wednesday and two more Thursday. She would test any samples collected during the week on Fridays and interpret the results the following Monday morning.

Brehm would arrive 30 minutes prior to milking time at each dairy and check the levels of white blood cells in milk from fresh cows using the California Mastitis Test (CMT). This allowed her to detect levels of subclinical mastitis in the milk samples. Subclinical mastitis can be a precursor to clinical mastitis, which is milk that is abnormal and non-saleable. A high white blood cell count means the cow is battling an infection or has recently recovered from an infection or inflammation. The udder of a dairy cow undergoes a lot of changes around the time the lactation begins so sometimes the increase in white blood cells in the system is a result of these normal changes, not necessarily due to mastitis.

“Just like in any other animal, there are always some white blood cells in the system, the numbers just increase when there is an inflammation or infection,” Brehm says. “I worked with farmers and milkers to check the milk of fresh cows on the farm, and if I detected a “positive” from any quarter of the cows I checked, I would collect a sample of that milk to look at in the lab and determine what organism was causing the increase in white blood cells. I would then relay this information back to the farmers so they could treat the animal if needed.”

The internship has provided Brehm with an opportunity she wouldn’t have had – even though her family owns a small dairy operation in northeast Iowa. By the end of the internship, she says she checked over 1,100 cows for mastitis.

About her overall internship Brehm states, “I got to do something I really enjoy and am interested in. Plus, it was a really good hands-on experience.”