Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Got Milk?

When I tell people I grew up on a dairy farm, one of the first things they ask me is, " Do you know how to milk a cow?" This question always makes me laugh a little. I think a lot of people still think of milking cows by hand; however, if the all farmers still did this, most farms would only consist of a few milk cows. I'm sure you've heard of large dairy corporations with thousands of milk cows. These types of operations would be nonexistent if everyone still milked by hand. I do know how to milk a cow by hand and with a machine, but milking was actually the job never wanted to do. My siblings and I would do about any other chore to get out of milking.

I know milking is probably the first thing that pops into your head when you hear, see, or even smell a dairy farm, but there are many other tasks that are necessary to maintain a successful dairy farm. Some of the obvious tasks are feeding and watering the cows. It may not seem too big of a deal when you think about feeding one cow, but imagine a heard of about 100. That makes the job a little more complicated especially when a cow drinks about 50 gallons of water a day and eats about 100 pounds of feed.

You may be wondering what exactly do cows eat? It's common to see cows out in a pasture munching on some grass, but a cow's diet is actually very complex. Their main source of food comes from silage. Silage can contain many different things, and this mixture depends on what types of resources the farmers have access to. Watching the silage being mixed is very interesting. Everything is dumped into a big mixer, much like an electric mixer in a kitchen but with very large, sharp blades.

Something people don't always think about is that in order to maintain a steady number of cows, the cow's must reproduce on a regular basis. Personally I think one of the coolest parts about living on a dairy farm is getting to see calves being born. It's amazing to watch them in the first couple days after birth because they change very rapidly. Usually only a few short hours after being born they are able to walk, a little wobbly I might add. It can also be hard to get them to eat the first couple times after they're born. This is because they either are not hungry yet, or they haven't quite mastered the skill of drinking from a bottle. After a few feedings they usually catch right on, and within a week they seem no different than the older calves.

My jobs on the farm were definitely easier than other jobs, but they were still very important. I usually had to feed and water the calves and make sure they had clean stalls. I often forget that not everyone has had the same experiences I have had. Many of the things I've seen and done don't seem like a big deal to me because I've grown up around them. Now that I'm away from all of it, I can see that dairy farms are not that common.

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