Monday, October 14, 2013

Cow carousel?

We went on our first official field trip today - to Fair Oaks Dairy Farm in Fair Oaks, IN.  I first heard about this farm from an email that my dad sent, and seeing that it is only a couple of hours away, I was surprised that I hadn't heard of it. 

We went with Lisa and Maria and, because of a change in work schedule, Eric was able to go also and provide a few cow puns at the start of the tour. :)

This place was quite an operation!  They have got this down to a science - not only the dairy and pig business, but the tourism phase as well.  They have around 30,000 acres and 36,000 cows.  Buses run to one of the cow barns and the pig barn every half hour.  A couple of the buses we were on today had standing room only.  The visitors center is laid out very nicely with all kinds of information about cows that is fun to read.  There is a section where you can time yourself hooking up cows to the vacuum pumps.  We learned that in the next five years they are adding about 15,000 more acres and are planning to build a new restaurant, a hotel, a water park, and add 4 more tours: beef, chickens, grain, and shrimp!  We all kind of chuckled at this.  A water park...and a dairy farm??  I guess if you're making a profit (and they obviously are) why not, right? 

The cows are milked 3 times a day every single day and each cow produces around 10-12 gallons of milk per day.  The buses drive part way through the middle of one of the barns and you are not allowed to get off nor open the windows.  It is a bio-sensitive environment (that's a new word for me).  The cows are herded in the same groups each day to a special area for the milking.  I mentioned that this whole thing is a Disney Pixar movie waiting to happen.  The are loaded onto a carousel and are hooked up to a vacuum machine that pumps the milk.  Once the carousel makes one trip around (it never stops) each cow knows it's her turn to get off.  She backs out and walks away and not too far away, more cows are stepping into their stall to get hooked up and go around. 

They have a separate birthing barn where all visitors can watch some of the 100 births they have every day.  We saw one and it was so beautiful.  The sad side of this is that after the mom cleans the baby, they are taken away pretty quickly.  The baby never gets to nurse from it's mother to prevent any kind of bonding.  The guide said that's something they wouldn't want to get into - it is a business after all, I guess.  From a maternal aspect I found this to be a little depressing.  The guide was quick to point out that the babies get the colostrum from other mothers, distributed in bottles, because that is so important in the first few days.  Since it is so important, why can't they just get the colostrum from their own mother?  Why would it be so bad if they bonded for a while?  Apparently, I wouldn't be successful in a dairy business.

The calf above was born today.  The calf below was born while we watched.  It is difficult to see the newborn calf - she is lying in the straw and looks yellow. The new calf to the left was very interested...

The pig side is run the same way.  There are huge rooms that hold pigs that are ready to give birth, giving birth, have piglets that are 1 week old and so on.  So many pigs!!  We also saw a midwife deliver one piglet.  Each pig delivers 12-14 piglets and they are rowdy when they want to eat!  Those poor mothers... :)

You can watch a video about it all here.

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