Monday, May 28, 2012

Got milk?

The J.F.Witter Center is our school's large animal research facility and is home to about 40 holstein's and a dozen standardbred horses. The first time I heard that we had a farm was fall semester of my freshman year and I knew I had to go visit ASAP. I spent a good amount of time as a kid either in my grandparent's barn with their two horses or taking riding lessons, so I'd gladly go out of my way just to smell the horses and fresh hay.

 One afternoon I saddled up (on my bike) and ventured out to find the farm. It was about 6 minutes from campus and easily reached via bike trail. It was great to smell that smell again and in a way it felt like a home away from home. It was a sweet escape from the monotonous lecture halls and noisy dorms, at least. I didn't know much about the place but knew I wanted to be a part of it. This spur of the moment visit was a big factor in leading me to the decision of switching my major to AVS. From the whinnying horses to the dairy calf nursery there was just so much life! It wasn't until fall semester of my sophomore year that I would start my life at the barn.

Fall semester- 2011: As part of my AVS 145 class, all students had to sign up for a "milking". This required that my lab partner and I went to the farm and assisted students in the upper level Dairy Co-op with their milking chores. We had spent most of our time in lab learning all about the dairy cow production cycle, so we could apply our knowlege to this hands on experience.

 When I had first switched majors I had in mind that I would work more on the horse side of the farm. I had made some judgements about the cows and put the horses on a pedestal. I thought cows were stinky and slow- which is in part true, but doesn't diminish the value of working with them. So far I've spent about 98% of my time at the barn with the cows. They've sort of Moo-ved me.

On the day of our milking my partner and I showed up at the barn and put on some steel-toed boots. We were at the bottom of the totem poll today.. the "145-ers" as the upper-level students called us. A.K.A. the guinea pigs. As the more experienced students set up the milk machines, my partner and I put fresh bedding under 35 cows. The whole operation was like an assembly line of giant beasts, each waiting their turn to get juiced by a giant stainless steel suction-robot. I milked a cow once at a farm in Illinois, but it was one cow and by hand.. I'd never seen anything like this.

 The machine sent gallons of milk on a journey through tubes and pipes to the bulk tank where it'd be stored. Moo's filled the air and 35 tails swished as the hours passed. It was a very time consuming operation and eventually I got a turn.

I stepped right up next to a big holstein and checked each teat by hand to make sure they were milkable. Next I applied the pre-dip (iodine solution) then put the machine on. It was a little strange being so up-close and personal with a cow's mammary gland and I was careful not to get stepped on. After she had a good milking, the unit was removed and post-dip applied. I did it! :)

It was nearly 8 p.m. before we were finished, and then we had to clean up. We swept the floors and cleaned the milking units.. but there was still one duty (or doodie) left. One of the cows had recently calved but retained her placenta. We were blessed with having the placenta delivered in our presence, right in front of us onto a grate. These grates were also covered in poo and had to be scraped down before we could leave. I can see why this placenta didn't want to pass in the first place, because it really struggled passing through the grate. It was heavy, tough and slimy. I attempted to slice it in half but my shovel wasn't cutting it. At last I fed it through the grate like a giant noodle and said goodbye to the barn for the night.

Back on campus that night, my partner and I hurried to the last dining hall open and grabbed dinner. I enjoyed a nice tall glass of milk with my meal.

1 comment:

  1. Your grandma used to milk goats -BY HAND! It's a skill that's been all but lost, but still comes in handy, e.g., beef heifer that is slow to accept her new calf, but the calf needs colostrum, pronto. Hobble the heifer, cramp her into a corned and milk out about a quart or so. put the colostrum in a bottle and, voila, happy, healthy calf, perplexed mama and impressed bystanders.