Thursday, April 29, 2010

Cows, Milk and the Changing Farm

Standing her ground, one curious cow stares at me, ready to bolt if necessary. 
I've always loved the black and white hides of Holstein cows. A few weeks ago I had the interesting adventure of visiting Brad and Lori Gernaat's dairy farm in Marion, Michigan, with my son and his family. What a surprise! Somehow I have missed the change from seeing dairy cows in fields to their disappearance from farm pastures. They now remain in large barns where they seem perfectly content to munch on the silage they're provided, and wander around the aisles of their domicile. The land they used to graze raises the silage the cows are fed, the liquid refuse from cleaning their barns fertilizes the fields.

The Gernaat's barns are open so their 1500 cows always have fresh air, but they also have curtains that can be pulled down in winter to prevent the worst of the cold entering the barn. The cows are milked three times a day. I watched them at one milking. One cow gave twenty gallons of milk. If she gave the same amount at every milking, that's sixty gallons of milk a day! Wow.
Off to be milked, the cows follow each other out of one barn and down the track that leads to the milking barn. Of course, curious creatures that they are, they had to stop and look at the visitors. Once in the milking barn they turn their rears to the machine. Two men work cleaning utters and attaching milking tubes. A few minutes later, the machines release and the job is done. The cows have to wait until every cow is finished being milked, then the gates open and they walk back to their barn. Creatures of habit, they seem very content with their lives.

I felt bad for the calves which are pulled from their mamas soon after birth, but it is a safety issue, and soon enough they are growing up with a group of friends.

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