Friday, September 25, 2009

Happy Cows

While it may be true that happy cows come from California, I recently saw 1,500 happy-looking cows without leaving Lancaster County. I was very favorably impressed at the effort that goes into making life easy for these animals. All they need to do is eat, sleep and produce milk – an average of  75 pounds every day. There were also 750 heifers on the farm, thus assuring a continuing supply of product as the producing cows dry up.
This particular farm raises all their own feed, with the exception of soy beans, on 3,500 acres. After the harvest, the hay, corn, etc. is accumulated in huge piles, covered with a layer of plastic, and then a layer of old tires. I had often driven by the farm and wondered why they were collecting all those tires.
In addition to structures for producing cows, there are separate structures for cows in their last two months of pregnancy, sick cows, cows which have recently given birth – you name it.
At feeding time a huge machine is driven down the center of the building to dump food within reach of the cows lined up along the sides of the wide central aisle.
But the most interesting sight of all is from the platform overlooking the huge carrousel which carries the cows at milking time. When I lived on the farm, we had one cow to be milked; the sight of 54 cows being simultaneously milked will stay with me for a long time. The wannabe standup comedian who served as our guide told us that the hardest job in the place is teaching the cows to jump up unto the moving equipment. Actually, they enter from a passage which is wide enough for only one cow at a time.
Each cow wears an ID chip like a wrist watch on its left front leg. Sensors record how much milk is produced, how active the wearer is, and all sorts of other information which the herdsman uses to monitor the physical condition of the cow. Because one cow’s illness could lead to the destruction of the entire herd, meticulous records are kept.
Milking is done three times a day. It takes eight minutes for the carrousel to make one revolution, but the actual milking takes about four minutes. The rest of the time is spent cleaning the cow’s teats with iodine, attaching the hoses, removing the hoses, and giving the teats a final coat of iodine to prevent infection.
As the cows step off the carrousel, a rotating brush is supposed to give each one a “back rub;” sort of a reward for a job well done. At the time we were there, the brush was not working, and some of the cows stood there waiting for their rubdown until pushed away by the following cow. Most of them moved on with what I can only describe as a look of bovine disappointment.
As the milk moves from the milking machines, it is first cooled, and then pumped into huge enclosed tanks. The milk from each shift goes into a separate tank, and after it is removed for further processing, the tank, and all other equipment, is thoroughly cleaned before the next shift.
From the time it leaves the cow until it arrives at the grocery store, the milk is never touched by human hands. An added plus is that a kosher inspector is on site to make sure that the stringent kosher rules are followed.
It is not an overstatement to say that “Cleanliness is next to godliness” is the unspoken motto of the place. After seeing the way things are done, I have no hesitation about using any modern dairy product.
 And regardless of what the guide said, I really doubt that cows that give 1% milk, 2% milk, etc are kept separate from each other, nor do I believe that black cows give chocolate milk. They don’t, do they?

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