Photo by Teah Dowling
Master of science candidate at Miner Institute Melissa Woolpert (left) and PR and Marketing Coordinator Rachel Dutil (right) put on a presentation about modern dairy farm practices and how the industry has evolved.
PLATTSBURGH/CHAZY — The first evidence of milking cows and consuming dairy products was drawn in ancient Egyptian caves around 230 B.C.
Since then, dairy farming practices have evolved and improved to much more than a simple farmer milking a cow by hand.
Melissa Woolpert, master of science candidate at Miner Institute in Chazy, did a presentation called “New Look, Same Great Farm: Understanding Modern Dairy Farming” at the Plattsburgh Public Library Wednesday, Aug. 26, focusing on modern dairy farming practices and how the dairy industry has evolved.
“I’m certainly not a farm girl by nature, but when I came up here, I fell in love with the cows and I fell in love with farming,” Woolpert said. “Old farms are beautiful, and there’s nothing better than an iconic farm landscape, but more modern farms offer a lot of things that old farms didn’t offer.”
Over the years, dairy farming has made three improvements: animal well-being, farming land and health safety.
At the Miner Institute, if they’re cleared with a clean bill of health, cows enter the milking parlor two to three times a day.
Instead of hand milking, the Miner Institute using milking machines, which are soft silicone shells with rubber inflations on the inside that use a combination of general massaging and vacuum-like suction to get the milk.
The milk is tested seven to 10 times from when it leaves the cow to when it gets into the dairy part of a grocery store to make sure it’s free of antibiotics.
Antibiotics can get into the milk supply if farmers accidentally put the milk from a cow who’s been treated with antibiotics into the food supply.
If this happens, farmers are responsible for purchasing the entire trailer truck load of milk, which could cost them about $10,000.
Farmers prevent this by identifying the treated cow with red velcro straps around her legs and keeping track of the specific medication she’s taking and how long it takes to get out of her system. Though she still gets milked, her milk is separated completely from the rest of the herd’s.
As a back-up plan, a milk inspector goes and examines barns unexpectedly with a check board list of all the things that needs to be in order. If a farmer does even one of these things wrong, they’ll have a certain time to fix it. If they don’t fix it by that time, they’ll be fined and run the risk of not having a place to sell their milk anymore.
“This is one of the most important things for farms because farmers have people who are consuming the milk they produce,” Woolpert said. “Farmers really feel a commitment to making sure that the milk they’re selling is safe for humans to drink.”
After going through the milking process, which is only 10 percent of their day, the cows are able to make their own choice as to what they want to do for the remainder 90 percent of the day.
Cows have the option to eat at their feed bunk, which is a 24-hour all-you-can-eat buffet equipped with headlocks so that cows can enjoy their meal without interruption or interception.
When not eating or milking, cows can choose to lie down in either sand or sawdust bedding, get cooled off by the barn’s several sprinklers or get a massage by a touch-sensor massager.
Other positive aspects of the barn include fans to keep the cows cool in the summer and insulated curtains and ceilings to keep the cows warm in the winter.
“From an animal well-being standpoint,” Woolpert said, “we’ve definitely made improvements.”
Farmers, Woolpert said, have always been stewards of the land.
Today, farmers are trying to make sure that any nutrients, such as fertilizer, that could run off the fields get caught up into a green area of grass, shrubs and trees so that it doesn’t make it into the nearest waterway.
Also, farmers are working hard to prevent erosion —loss of soil and rocks from rain or wind.
To prevent this, farmers are starting to use Cover Crops - an option to provide a soil cover or barrier to prevent loss of soil.
“The things that haven’t changed are the innovation that farmers use everyday to continue improving,” Woolpert said. “Farming is still really hard work and farmers feel a huge sense of responsibility for the environment, the animals and the food and drink that we’re all enjoying today.”
For more information on modern dairy farm practices or the Miner Institute itself, call 518-846-7121 or visit whminer.org.