Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Changes in Dairy Farms
January 9, 2014 | No Comments

As I start to write this article, it is snowing hard outside and has been all morning. Temperatures range from 17 to 18 degrees. It…

As I start to write this article, it is snowing hard outside and has been all morning. Temperatures range from 17 to 18 degrees. It is a cold, snowy winter morning.

Just as I was getting my thoughts together to write, the phone rang. The call was from my longtime dairy farmer friend Chuck Lausin, from Thompson Township in Geauga County. Chuck said there was currently a good five inches of snow at his farm and more was coming down as we talked.

While Chuck and his wife Lennie are still active on the farm, much of the operation has been turned over to other family members. So, they have a bit more freedom to enjoy life and were getting ready to go to Florida in about four days, weather permitting.

We spent some time thinking back about the way farming was 50 or 60 years ago. In many ways, changes have been amazing such as basic practices as the way cows were housed compared to today. Barns were smaller and many dairy herds were smaller. Often there were two rows of cows down the middle of the barn facing toward the outside wall.

A couple of box stalls and calf pens would be located at one end of the barn. Cows were either in stanchions, where they were confined, or in tie stalls that gave them some more freedom to move.

Milking was done with machines or by hand and the milk dumped into larger containers and carried to the milk house that was connected to, but separate, from the barn. There it was put through a strainer into 10-gallon milk cans. Cans were then lifted into an electric cooling vat that circulated cold water to cool the milk.

Milk trucks came around and picked up the cans to take them to the processor. There were several companies locally that bought and processed the milk into glass quart or half-gallon bottles. Or they made cottage cheese or ice cream, depending on the market.

Today many dairy farms are different. Cows are housed in barns that allow them to move around freely, lay down when they want to and eat and drink as they please. These are called free-stall barns and are common locally.

Milking is done in a parlor where the cows come into stalls and the person milking is in a pit low enough that he can put the milking machine on the cows without bending down. This is much easier on knees and backs, especially as one gets older.

With stainless steel pipelines, the milk goes directly from the cows into a bulk tank, where it is cooled down immediately to 48 degrees. It is not exposed to the air and was kept clean.

From the farm, the milk is checked for any possible off-odors, a sample taken for testing and pumped into a bulk tank truck that goes from farm to farm. Milk samples from every farm are checked for somatic cell counts that would indicate bacteria or mastitis.

As one can see, there is much less hand labor with free stalls and parlors. Cows are fed with self-unloading wagons going down the middle and dumping the feed into a manager. Manure is scraped, usually with a skid loader, from the alley behind the cows into a storage area.

Stanchion or tie-stall barns may have a pipeline today that takes the milk to the bulk tank. But, it is still more work getting up and down to milk those cows. Feeding is by manual labor and cleaning manure from gutters may be by hand or with mechanical gutter cleaners.

Locally, there are a few tie-stall barns and they are common among our Amish friends. These are mostly with smaller herds and farms. All kinds of dairy farm operations work hard to produce and sell quality milk.

Parker is retired from The Ohio State University and an independent agricultural writer.

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