Six Weeks of Summer at Cornell Summer Dairy Institute

She herd she was next!

She herd she was next!

By Henry Miller (Cambridge)

If you’re anything like me no doubt you’ve seen dozens of pictures of fellow vets students enjoying themselves in exotic locations abroad and counting it as EMS.  Surely it’s such a shame not to take advantage of the amazing travel opportunities available especially when we’re all suffering from a lack of full student holidays? Rolling EMS and foreign adventures into one seems a ‘no brainer’! It can be tricky finding the perfect EMS experience but, to my mind, SDI ticks pretty much all the boxes!

The basic premise is to take 25 vet students from around the world and fast track them through production medicine with six weeks of intensive dairy focused seminars, practical teaching sessions and industry visits. Chuck in a frat house with a professional chef, bucket loads of superb ice cream on-campus, spectacular scenery (geographical and social) in the buzzing university city of Ithaca and tons of American hospitality then you can’t fail to have fun.

There’s a rough theme each week such as nutrition, housing, fertility or milk quality and for every topic the lecturers come from across North America to teach by day and share a few drinks by night. Despite the very formal jam-packed timetable there is plenty of flexibility and time for lively discussion and questions. Roughly half the time is spent in the field or on the Cornell University dairy farm putting theory into practice. Assessing farm facilities, testing milking machines, foot trimming, ultrasound pregnancy diagnosis and obstetrics all feature. After learning the basics the group is split into teams of 5 and spends 3 days on a case farm culminating in producing a comprehensive herd health and productivity review.

Making sure the technique was udderly perfect

Making sure the technique was udderly perfect

Probably my favourite aspect of the whole trip was meeting so many genuine people from a huge spectrum of backgrounds but all with a shared interest in farm animal (particularly dairy) medicine. Six countries were represented in the student cohort but there was an immediate sense of rapport from day one. There was ample free time in the evenings and weekends for exploring some of what Ithaca and the surrounding area had to offer. Niagara Falls and the Saratoga Horse Races made for brilliant weekend trips but it wasn’t at all necessary to go very far to have fun. Ithaca provides watersports, beautiful gorges, live music and bustling bars and restaurants, plus everyone from Cornell (including the professors) kept us entertained with BBQs and campfires to make the most of the warm summer evenings. It’s thanks to all these ‘extra’ features that I think the people I met will stay with me longer than the complex skills I learned. It’s not just at AVS Sports and Congress that you can build bridges between vet schools!

Please note you do not have to be from a dairy background to attend! Vet student specialisation in the USA is far advanced beyond schools in the UK (I don’t know of anywhere here with a Dairy Club or competitive pregnancy diagnosing) so it can seem daunting when you haven’t got years of farming/farm vetting experience. However, as long as you bring enthusiasm to the table over there everyone is more than happy to take the time to teach you at your own pace. Only a couple of my stupid questions prompted a chuckle before someone brought me up to speed. And it’s not just the professionals who teach! I can safely say I learnt just as much from the other students on the course as I did during seminars from the international dairy experts.

A quick word on expenses as we all have to work on a budget… I paid $2500 for the course which includes bed and board. For 6 weeks in America I think this is excellent value! It’s not a small sum of money but there is a strong precedent for university and BVA travel grants to contribute moreover, any AVMA accredited university student can apply for a substantial scholarship from the American Association of Bovine Practioners so plenty of funding is available if you look for it.

Friends for heifer and for heifer

Friends for heifer and for heifer

To summarise I whole heartedly recommend applying for SDI! While I didn’t see a single elephant, gorilla or tiger in New York State the deer, skunks and groundhogs of Ithaca are on every street corner. Although I didn’t spend a single day ‘in practice’ in the USA I hope that what I did learn will stand me in just as good stead for a career in farm animal medicine and who doesn’t want a break from typical EMS days of consults and car journeys once in a while? Check out the SDI website if you’re interested and, whatever you do, make the most of any extended holiday blocks in your timetable for something a little different.

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