Horses brought her, then cows won her heart

Horses brought her, then cows won her heart
In classrooms and labs, pastures and barns, Laura Tavera discovered her calling—and with that, a future career.
“There are moments when I’ll be bottle-feeding a calf or working in the pastures—it’s so peaceful when the sun is coming up—and I’ll be like, ‘This is amazing,’ and I’m so grateful that I’m here.”Laura Tavera

Laura Tavera, a native of Puerto Rico, came to The Ohio State University College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences (CFAES) through a scholarship from Ohio State alumnus Mike Chema, which grew from their shared love of horses (check out their story at go.osu.edu/Bkge.)

But after taking dairy nutrition courses in the college, working at the dairy farm at CFAES’ Waterman Agricultural and Natural Resources Laboratory, and being smitten by it all, Tavera is on a path to a career with a different kind of four-legged animal.

“I want to be a dairy nutritionist,” says the junior animal sciences major, who is minoring in agribusiness and is studying in the Dairy Certificate Program.

That wasn’t always the case.

“Before I came to Ohio State,” Tavera says, “I had never even touched a cow.”

But spurred by her passion for horses, and then by an equine nutrition course, she decided to switch the specialization of her major: from animal biosciences—an option for pre-vet—to animal industries—good for going straight into industry.

Then came courses in dairy nutrition—“Cows were new to me, and everything my professors told me about them I just absorbed,” Tavera says—a student research job working in the lab of CFAES dairy nutrition professor Jeffrey Firkins, and a newsletter announcement from the Waterman dairy farm: “Now hiring summer dairy interns.”

She applied, was hired, the internship turned into a part-time job, and the rest, she says, is history.

“The first time I mixed a batch of feed and delivered it by myself was the sweetest moment ever. It completed the circle, from learning about this in the classroom and lab to applying it on the farm.”Laura Tavera

Her hands-on experience at Waterman—working on a farm, feeding and handling dairy cows, doing the day-to-day chores that any dairy farmer does, including sometimes waking up at 3:35 in the morning to get started—together with her coursework and research experience, gives her a leg up for getting a job after graduation.

Recently, while looking into internships at a CFAES career expo, Tavera shared her work background—at the Waterman farm, in Dr. Firkins’ lab—with a rep from a major feed company.

“I asked her, ‘What kind of candidates are you looking for?’ And she looked at me and she said, ‘Someone like you.’ So that was a good affirmation that I’m heading in the right direction.”

Her first love will follow there, too.

“I’ll definitely have a horse on the side,” she says with a laugh. “That’ll be my hobby.”

Story by Kurt Knebusch, photos by Ken Chamberlain, video by John Rice and Walter Warkus, CFAES Advancement.