PARDEEVILLE, Wis. – “I’ve never had a bad day here,” said Aaron Rathke of his summer internship at the Pardeeville-area farm owned by Matt Breneman. Rathke’s positive attitude gels with Breneman’s philosophy – that a team of dedicated people are what fuels a successful business.
Rathke is a senior at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls where he’s majoring in agricultural business and animal science. The summer internship enabled him to gain hands-on experience in commercial-cattle production.
“I’ve learned a lot about embryo transfer, giving shots and breeding synchronization on a large scale,” he said of working with the 300-head herd at the Breneman farm. “I’ve also learned the importance of forage management.”
The knowledge he's acquired has come from Breneman, who houses donor cows for ABS Global, and custom feeds bulls and cows for genetic-development programs. Breneman did own a 220-head herd a few years ago. But he has since decided to focus on providing contract services.
“That way we’re not as vulnerable to market volatility,” he said. “It reduces the risk factor."
Breneman recently expanded his contract services to encompass all aspects of cattle breeding. That includes conducting bull soundness examinations, he said.
“I’m seeing how a large-scale breeding program is put together and managed,” Rathke said.
Rathke’s internship included responsibilities for daily cattle checks. He ensured they had sufficient water and minerals. He was responsible for helping to keep the Breneman farm looking neat and clean. Part of his internship also required him to be able to identify legumes, grasses and weeds in pastures.
“I wanted the full experience,” Rathke said. “I’ll be making a presentation on what I learned about forages.”
After he graduates from college, he said he’ll likely pursue a job in agribusiness. Working in the area of animal nutrition is a possibility as well. But he also would like to own a farm someday. An internship can prepare a person for that possibility, Breneman said.
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“One needs practical experience to see what it takes to run a farm on a daily basis,” he said. “Working with people and putting together a team is a lot of what a manager does.”
Rathke already had a good idea about the value of teamwork having worked five years for his father’s company, Hartmann Sand and Gravel of Fredonia, Wisconsin.
“Aaron’s dad has a team ‘to make things go,’” Breneman said.
While on the subject of teams -- Rathke is on the beef-management team at UW-River Falls. He and fellow team members help manage the university’s cattle herd. They help to determine the composition of the cow-calf herd -- what percentage will be purebred and what percentage will be for commercial production. They’re also encouraged to network with beef-industry leaders at conferences. The Wisconsin Cattlemen’s Association awarded a scholarship to Rathke to attend the 2019 National Cattlemen’s Beef Association.
Brenda Boetel, head of the agricultural economics department at UW-River Falls, is also an agricultural marketing specialist focused on livestock marketing with the UW-Division of Extension. She works with the university's beef-management team, which is comprised of about 30 students. Students are interviewed and must be approved to become part of the team.
"Not all students can be part of the team," she said.
But Rathke made the cut.
He was chosen to manage the team's feedlot operation and was skilled at soliciting student volunteers to help with tasks such as weighing cattle and keeping records, Boetel said.
"Aaron has a great personality and makes others feel comfortable," she said. "That motivates them to help with what needs to be done."
No doubt, that pleases Rathke's mentor, Matt Breneman.