Hot Dogs & Udders: Our Dairy Dialogue

(Note:  This blog post is, essentially, a conversation between myself and Michele Payn-Knoper of Cause Matters, Corp. who was so kind as to take me to my first ever dairy farm while we worked on the task of video and audio editing.)

Kelly: I did something new yesterday. I went to a dairy farm. Now, for someone who went from beef, to non-farming, to rabbit raising, to 4-Her, to FFA chapter president, to suburbanite, to future farmer’s wife, this was a long-awaited and VERY interesting experience. (And in case you were wondering, Farmboy and I are not engaged, I just like to assume things.) Anyways, good ol’ Michele Payn-Knoper graciously offered to introduce me to the dairy farm where her cows are milked, as break from our video and audio training yesterday. It was a chance for me to try something new. And she got to do some video work (which she then edited and posted, all by herself!)

It was a blast. Right, Michele?

MPK: Sure thing! I find it really cool how much talent there is in the agvocacy community and was thrilled to find someone who could teach me to quickly master my Mac video programs – it was a bonus to be able to talk cows. And, it was a relief to find you really are who you claim to be, since we’ve had hundreds of conversations through #AgChat and never met in person. Folks, she really is short. LOL!

Kelly: So, we go to the dairy farm, and we started right off the bat in the parlor. I learned you have to enter quietly, something about the cows sometimes being near the door we walked in. I think? Maybe.

MPK: Umm, well – you don’t want your milk splatted on the floor, do you? Seriously, cows like routine, habit and calm behavior from people who “know cows.” You enter parlors slowly out of respect for their domain. That’s how it’s easy to see that cows are well cared for by farmers; they’d be skittish (a bit like horses) if they were not happy. 

Kelly: We chatted with the girl that was milking, and then one of the partners in the farm, Kelly, came and met us. Of course I liked her because of her name! We went out into the waiting area where the cows patiently waited for their turn in the parlor. I got introduced to Panera, Michele’s show cow who just happens to be by the parlor! While Panera waited for her turn to go in, Michele and Kelly taught me about how a cow’s dairy character (something about their fat and bones in most people’s terms) will change throughout the lactation period. Then we went back into the parlor as the next round of cows, including Panera, lined up for milking.

MPK: Ahem! You forgot to mention that it’s Paynacres Perfect Panera, my favorite cow – and that she’s quite beautiful (and slightly spoiled). And the dam (that’s mother, not a cuss word) of my favorite yearling Paynacres Perfect Pumpkin, who also provides a beautiful view from my office. Did I not explain the lovely openness of rib, her angularity and tremendous style enough? 

Kelly: THEN THEY ASKED ME TO MILK HER. Panera. You know, the pretty working girl-slash-pageant queen. What?! I was handed a paper towel, and was told how to clean off the iodine that was put on the teats shortly before to kill any germs on the outside of the udder. (Did you know, cows have ONE udder, and four teats? Don’t call the teats “udders” because you’ll get made fun of. And don’t compare them to hot dogs. (Apologies to Michele and Panera.) Then, I was walked step-by-step through the process of how to attach the milker thingy to the udder. And when I messed up a little bit, I had some creative language to express my concerns.

MPK: Hmph-my cow most certainly does not have hot dog teats. She has a lovely udder, particularly her fore udder and prominent veination. And didn’t you forget the four quarters, median suspensory ligament, etc.? Never mind, I’ll be happy if you simply know that cows have different udder quality – and of course, Panera’s is delightful. And that there are several steps before and after milking that happens every time to ensure a safe, nutritious product. There’s more cleaning that goes on in a milking parlor than about any kitchen I know. 

Kelly: It got sorted out, though, and Panera was back to her usual work schedule. Even briefly touching a part of the equipment that the milk flows through, I realized how warm that milk really is when it comes out!

MPK: Yep, cows are about 101.5 degrees and their milk is even warmer, but plate coolers are an excellent example of food safety (chilling milk to 38 degrees) and environmentalism on a farm; the water is recycled from the plate cooler and given to the cows to drink. By the way, Panera was working in the parlor – the rest of the time she gets to lay around, eat and drink. Lucky girl! While dairy cows do eventually pay the sacrifice of becoming hamburger (and that’s just a part of life), they have a great life while they’re in a milking herd. 

Kelly: Dairy farmer Kelly then went on to explain the breeding schedule. Their farm schedules calving in the spring and in the fall, so several of their cows have just recently gotten “dried off” to prepare for the birth of their young’uns. Dry cows are just cows who are on vacation for 60-80 days or so.

MPK: Sure wish I could have 60 days vacation to lounge around. On a serious note, some anti-ag groups try to make claims of cows being abused by calving in every year and then having milkers attached to them. Anyone who has ever breastfed should know the relief of being milked on a regular basis. As for claims of abuse – first off, giving milk is what dairy cows are meant for and secondly, show me a miserable cow and I’ll show you one who doesn’t milk. Kelly, given the work you had to put into milking a single cow and the interaction between farmer and cows, do you buy the whole abuse claim?

Kelly: The cows seemed incredibly happy, and it was neat the way they were so content, just walking right up into the parlor. Kind of made me jealous. I’d love to have a job where I ate, slept, and loafed around all day! “The girls” were obviously very well respected, and I think it’s safe to say if you treat them right, they’ll treat you right back (by giving a good product)!

Anyways, it was a fantastic experience, and it was really great to get “firsthand” experience with where milk comes from. It was just one example of the millions of unique farms out there. This was a family dairy, consisting of about 120 cows that are grazed rotationally. It really was a great example of a farm doing wonderful things, but this isn’t the only system that works. Farming is a hugely diverse industry, and I’m lucky that I could grab a glimpse of a specialized part I wasn’t familiar with! Thanks, Michele and Kelly! It sure was a great first time!

MPK: It was fun to share the dairy love. Kelly was happy to show their farm to you – as are most farmers, as long as biosecurity rules are followed and visitors have an open mind. Some studies have shown that 75% of people haven’t been on farms in the last five years. That makes me sad – particularly as much as consumers talk about their food source. Kelly, don’t you think the modern day practices in food production give you a different perspective? 

Kelly: Definitely! The population is growing so ridiculously quick! Modern practices help us guarantee food for a growing world. Large or small and ranging across several different methods, “conventional” farms (I prefer “progressive”) help secure safe, plentiful, and nutritious food for a constantly hungry population. I’m proud to have an inside few of the industry that fills that need.

Here’s Michele’s video of my first experience milking a cow:


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