Earrings are one word for them – but around the farm, those things in a cow’s ears are actually called ‘ear tags’. Continue reading
Wheat is one of the grain crops we grow around our farm. It is all sold with an intention of going to the food market to be used as flour for something like cookies or pastry. But harvesting that grain is only the beginning for the crop, as we also want to harvest the stalk of the dried up wheat plant. Continue reading
For all of us, nutrition is incredibly important to our health. It is no different for a dairy cow! I’ve heard many times people compare a dairy cow to a high performance athlete, since their bodies are working to produce milk, much like an athlete is working on their chosen sport. So what does it take for a cow to reach the peak of her production?
Well, it actually starts with a sample of each of the different types of feed we will be using.
Samples of the hay, corn silage and grain corn are all sent to a lab for nutritional analysis. That way our herd’s nutritionist can create all the labels that you and I get when we buy food in the grocery store. With those labels, Dan (the nutritionist) then works to create a balanced diet based on their needs and how much they are expected to milk. He also creates a for a mineral supplement to make up for any deficiencies that our own grown crops have. He then sends along a recipe for how much of each type of feed we are to use, and we measure it down to the pound, mix it all up, and serve out a delicious, and very nutritious, meal.
Here is each item before we mix it all up (measured out as 10% of what they would eat daily).
Our milking cows each eat 15.5 pounds of dry hay, 57 pounds of corn silage (it is heaviest because is more than 50% water), 12 pounds of corn ground up to powder and 8.5 pounds of vitamins & minerals (including a protein supplement) daily. Mix it all up and add another 8 pounds of water for each cow and you have a meal that is sure to satisfy!
Once we get to the summer, the cows will add a little bit of grass to their diet when they go out to the pasture and graze, but it will only make up a few pounds. They always get to choose between this mix and the grass, and this mix is always cleaned up first!
Keeping cows happy is one of the most important jobs of a dairy farmer. After all, did you know that happy and comfortable cows give more milk? It’s true! If a cow isn’t feeling well or isn’t comfortable, they just won’t give as much milk as those that are happy, comfortable, well fed and well watered. It is why we are making a huge investment into the long term health of all of our girls with a new addition. The addition will mean more room for more cows, but will also feature some new comforts. Come for a tour!
A floor so clean you can eat off of it!
One of our changes is new, ceramic tile for the cows to eat off. Yes – the same tile that may be in your kitchen or bathroom is what our cows eat off of! Because cement can be hard for a cow to lick, the tile means a smooth surface for the cows to lick every last bit of feed up.
Daylight at night?
We may like a nice dimly lit room for a romantic dinner once in a while, but cows don’t. They are more comfortable eating with lots of light. It is why we’ve added lots of bright, white lights to help them see. The lights are even on timers, to make sure these winter nights when the sun goes down early, doesn’t cut into supper time. Then, the lights go out on their own to make it nice and dark for them to have a good night’s rest.
Big, big fans!
As a kid, I was always happy to sit in front of a fan on a hot summer day. Cows kind of like it too. But instead of getting a little fan for everyone, we’ve got several big fans (up to 5 feet wide) that will pull in fresh air at one end of the barn, and blow the stuffy, hot air out of the other end. It means the air in our 240′ long barn will change every 30 seconds in the summer. In the winter, to keep things from getting too stuffy, we’ve added ceiling vents that will open and close on the command of a thermostat. It means that when it is a cold winter night, the cows will be kept warm; and when it is a warmer winter day, new air will easily keep the barn fresh.
Mattresses for cows.
You sleep on a mattress – so do the cows! While you might like it plush, cows like a bit firmer cushion underneath them. That’s why we have a layer of recycled, shredder rubber underneath foam, underneath a tough cover that can stand up to all a cow delivers. This picture is from when construction was still on-going, because now we’ve also added a layer of fresh straw on top of the mattress that covers it up! It makes being a cow, pretty comfy.
Last week we had a calf die.
She was about 5 days old, was looking bright and cheerful when she ate her supper, and we found her very weak early the next morning as we brought out breakfast.
We treated her with antibiotics, knowing that it was a long shot for how ill she was. She died a few hours later.
That day sucked.
But, you’ve got to pick yourself up quickly in order to keep it from happening again. Step one if getting our veterinarian involved. Our hope was that the vet could help cure the calf. Their job on our farm is to try to prevent illness on the farm in the first place, instead of always trying to cure it (although they are very good at the curing part too when needed). Call it preventative medicine versus reactionary medicine. You do the same thing by eating well, washing your hands regularly during cold season, or get a physical. Because of how quickly the calf was going downhill, nothing could be done.
Once the calf died, the vet performed a quick autopsy. This involved an inspection of vital organs to see if it could have been something the calf was born with. With nothing standing out, samples were taken of the kidneys, liver, stomach, bowels, and stool. All of these are going to a lab to be examined and tested for a slate of bacteria and viruses to see just what could have happened. Luckily, another of our newborn calves has shown no signs of illness and is doing well.
Whether this was a rarity that is hard to explain, similar to other cases in human or animal health – or something that can be prevented, we will do our best to get to the bottom of it. Strong, healthy calves mean everything to us, not just because we want to see them that way – but because they’ll grow into the cows we need to provide milk for all of us.
Farm life is a great life – but it isn’t perfect and some days, like this one, are hard to take. Good thing they don’t come very often.
It is hard to find something that goes better with warm cookies than cold milk. Same with your cereal, a sandwich piled high, or even just as an afternoon thirst quencher. Really, it is hard to find something as good as that glass of cold, fresh milk. But have you ever thought about how it comes to be so cold and stay so fresh?
It starts at the cow – where it certainly doesn’t come cold. Our milking machines checks the temperature of the milk ion an ongoing basis as it gently milks the cow. Not only does it ensure quality milk, but it can be an early sign of an unhealthy cow when the milk is too hot or too cold. We look for 37.5-39.5 degrees Celsius. Talk about fresh! (Also recorded is how much milk the cow has given and how long it has taken. It even draws a graph to compare how many kilograms are given per minute)
Next step is a cooler that immediately cuts the temperature of the milk in half. It has thin plates (which is why it is called a plate cooler or heat exchanger) where the milk runs through. On the other side of each plate runs cold water, straight from our ground well. That cold water is warmed from the milk and sent to the water troughs for the cows to drink. The warm milk is cooled and sent to the bulk tank for storage and further cooling. This plate cooler saves a lot of electricity – since the electric cooler is only bringing the milk down from about 18C instead of 39C. (The MilkGuard unit shows the temperature of the milk as the bulk tank begins to fill up)
The bulk tank is where the milk is stored until it is ready for to be picked up (which happens every other day). Sensors in the tank keep the milk between 2C and 4C. There is also a large paddle that spins a few minutes every hour to keep the milk from separating.
When the milk truck comes for pick-up, the temperature is recorded down to a tenth of a degree. Nice and cold every time!
So now when you pull that milk out of the fridge, you know it has been cold all-along!
Oats can make a tasty breakfast. Cows think so too! And while yours may come rolled, boiled and with a bit of cinnamon, for the cows they like them either plain or wrapped up with the stem. This week we harvested our oats that will be used to feed the cows.
Step one – cut them!
Using our haybine, the green oats are cut into rows. If we waited until they dried – they would sprout while in the bales.
Step two – bale them! Using a round baler, they are baled up while still a bit wet.
Step three – wrap them! Wrapping them in plastic helps to keep the feed from spoiling.
When we are ready to feed the bales, we will use the loader tractor to put the bales into large feeding boxes that allow the cows to eat whenever they are hungry for snack!
Have you ever been driving down a country road and noticed the tall cylinders on many farms made of cement or steel. Those cylinders are called silos, and their purpose is to store feed for livestock. On my farm we have two silos used for feed storage one holds haylage and the other high moisture corn. Haylage is simply damp hay that is chopped into roughly 2.5cm pieces and put into the silos for storage and to ferment. In the first video I will show you how we transform our hay into silage and put it into the wagon for transportation to the silo. The second video shows you how we unload the wagons and blow it into the top of the silo for storage to be fed to the animals as needed.
When I say the word cow – what comes to mind?
A black & white one maybe?
Like you may have a German Shepard or a Miniature Schnauzer for a dog, farmers can have different breeds of cows. The most famous cow in books and cartoons, is also the most popular kind of dairy cow. Those black and white ones you see are ‘Holsteins’ and make up well over 90 percent of all the cows farmers raise for milk production.
Here is another fun fact. Did you know that no two holsteins have the same spots? It is kind of like how no two people have the same fingerprint. But even when they all look different, sometimes we need help to remember who is who. That is why in our barn we keep cow name tags above each cow. These signs aren’t in all dairy barns, but we like having them to help us keep track of who-is-who, which cows belongs in which stall (don’t worry – there is a post coming soon about stalls) and remember which family tree she belongs to.
Here is an example of a sign, and what it says.
The first line – Bellson Dolman Wonder is her full name. Bellson is our farm name, and shows which farm was responsible for breeding her mother. Dolman is her father’s name, and Wonder is her name.
Next line is her birthday followed by her beauty rating. That’s right – every cow in the herd gets a score for how pretty they are our of 100.
The next two lines show how much milk, fat and protein she has produced as a 2 year old and as a 3 year old. Those are all in kilograms. And in case you are wondering – that does mean that when she was 3 years old – she produced over 11 000 kilograms of milk!
The next two lines are her parents’ full names (including the farms they come from). Sire is ‘Dad’ in cow language, and ‘Dam’ is mom.
Finally, the last #169 at the bottom is the number you will find on her ear tag. It is the last step to confirming that Wonder is who she says she is.
For the younger animals, we have signs with pictures to help us get familiar with which spots are on which animals. (Like below)
And now you know that cows have name tags!