As many of you know last weekend I had the awesome opportunity to visit with some amazing people. I also had the opportunity to visit Fair Oaks Farms. I’ve visited farms before, I’ve been around dairy’s but this – this was fantastically unique. I had visited Fair Oaks in highschool on the way to attnding National FFA Convention in Indianapolis. If I had to describe it – well, let’s just say – it’s the Disneyland of farms. Yes, I’m being completely serious. I wanted to share this excellent experience for anyone who has never been to a farm. Ready, set, go!
We arrived a little early, so we got to enjoy the gift shop. You know in all honesty I really wanted to just take home the whole store. But I was flying back so I didn’t exactly have room in my suitcase. Plus I had to make rent. So I took photos of all the adorable things there were. Seriously anything dairy themed you could imagine was in this store! And of course delicious ice cream and cheese made from some the milk the dairy cows on their farm produce. (If you’d like to purchase some of this stuff you can visit their online store or go in person of course).
Next we boarded the cow-spotted bus (sealed to keep our germs away from the dairy cattle and ensure they stay healthy).
We first visited the dry cow barn. This is one of the many dairies that are part of Fair Oaks.
As you approach the dry cattle barn you are introduced to the giant mountains of corn silage (stalks of corn including corn grain) that have been draped with plastic tarps and secured with the sidewalls of tires. This is one of the many components of their feed. In addition to this there were large amounts of hay and several areas full of other important parts including vitamins and minerals. These ingredients are all formulated into a diet by the dairy nutritionist on staff to assure that the dairy cattle are getting everything they need to be healthy. This is called a ‘ration’. There are rations formulated for ‘dry’ cows (that are not milking), pregnant cows that are close to calving (having their babies) and cows that are milking.
You also get the opportunity to see the anaerobic digester system. The bacteria in this system are introduced to waste from the dairy heifers which converts the methane present (a natural product) into use-able, clean energy! This is just one of the many things Fair Oaks does to ensure sustainability is a core tenet in how their operation functions:) Talk about being green!
Now onto the cows;) This is the dry cow barn. The dairy cows closer to the front of the barn will calve the earliest and thus there is a maternity pen here. This is just like a maternity ward and there is a maternity technician standing by to help deliver the calf and assure they get colostrum (first milk).
Also, please note that the barn is designed for cow comfort:) Adjustable side walling allows the dairymen to keep the temperature optimum. In the heat of the summer it will be lifted up and in the snow of the winter it will be re-introduced. The stanchion’s allow cattle to have their own area to eat (they choose to enter/exit the stanchion as they please). The beds consist of comfortable sand which are excellent for sleeping. It provides traction when they decide to stand up and padding when they decide to lie down. In addition to this there are a variety of fans and misters to ensure that the cattle are comfortable. Constant access to clean water and nutritious food is always a priority at Fair Oaks. This barn is a free-stall which means the heifers are free to move around and this is typical.
We next drove to see the calves. They’re just the most adorable thing I’ve seen in my life in case you were wondering. The buckets lining their fence have food and water. Younger calves in these hutches are bottle-fed.
Calves are separated from their mothers after birth for the health of both parties. Sometimes cows are not good at being mothers and will not clean off their calf and/or allow them to nurse. They also may step on their calf accidentally. In addition to this, the cow needs time to rest and recover. Colostrum inoculates the rumen (part of their digestive system) with microbes just like we have in ours and establishes immunity. This is the first milk given and is collected and bottle fed to the calf to assure they receive an adequate amount to start their life off healthy.
Placing the calf in a hutch allows for a more sanitary environment and keeps calves from becoming sick. They create the perfect climate for the calf and are well ventilated. The calf can also stand up inside the hutch:)
Next we visited the milking parlor:) This is a carousel, meaning it rotates and a ride lasts 8 minutes. The milking attachment contains a soft insulated rubber that gently massages the udder and introduces air around the tissue to facilitate milk letdown. First the milking technician cleans the udder and then the milking unit is attached by a technician. The milk is collected via a vaccuum pump and put into large tanks. After the milk has been collected a dip is administered to help keep the udder infection free and soft.
The milk is cooled from 100 degrees (as it leaves the cows body) to 40 degrees (in the two pipes pictured below). Like I mentioned above this milk is stored in milk tanks until it is picked up via truck to be taken to a plant where it can be pasteurized, verified as safe and further processed.
So, there ya have it! This is how milk gets to your table. A lot of hard work and stewardship of the animals and land is involved. Thank God for farmers!
Thanks for reading!