Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The Farmer's Cow's Winter Farm Tour

As you may be aware, we have been discussing agriculture, particularly the goods that are produced locally. There are six Connecticut dairy farms that make up The Farmer's Cow: Fairvue Farms in Woodstock, Fort Hill Farms in Thompson, Hytone Farm in Coventry, Cushman Farms in Franklin, Mapleleaf Farm in Hebron, and Graywall Farms, in Lebanon. The locally fresh milk, dairy products, seasonal beverages, and eggs produced by The Farmer's Cow are favorites at our house, and we enjoy supporting our local dairy farms. :)
The Farmer's Cow held a Winter Farm Tour at Graywall Farms in Lebanon on February 15th. This, of course, fit in perfectly with our lesson! Graywall Farms was gracious enough to open its doors for this free event to show all who attended how The Farmer’s Cow milk is produced, visit the with the cows who make the milk, learn about dairy farming, and experience all that Connecticut agriculture is about. :)
Upon arrival, guests were greeted by The Farmer's Cow's transit vans which were set up with displays of free pamphlets about The Farmer's Cow and the farms that make up The Farmer's Cow, free coloring books and stickers, and a bucket of free chocolate chip and oatmeal raisin cookies. Two very friendly young ladies offered visitors a sample of either apple cider, or any of the milks produced by The Farmer's Cow. I can tell you that I really enjoyed the sample of Fat Free Farmer's Cow milk and the oatmeal raisin cookie I had. ;)
A representative from the farms that make up The Farmer's Cow were standing by to guide groups on a tour of the farm. Once we joined our tour guide, we were given an overview of how The Farmer's Cow came about and taught the theme song ~ “We are the farmers who work the land and grow the crops to feed the cows that give the milk for you to enjoy. We're The Farmer's Cow!”
The first stop on the farm tour was the birthing barn. We were delighted to find a baby cow, just born that morning! We were told that mothers and babies are separated after the mother cow licks the baby clean because the babies need to get a gallon of mother's milk in the first six hours of it's life! A mother cow doesn't take well to nursing a baby cow, so the farmers keep new mothers' cows' milk separate from milk that goes to market. This milk is stored and fed to the baby cows by the farmers. This way, the baby cow gets all the nutrients and antibodies necessary to keep it healthy. :) We were assured that separating the baby from the mother is not 'mean.' Everything The Farmer's Cow farmers do for their cows is for the benefit of their cows. They believe that, in order for the cows to produce well for them, the cows need to be treated well. :)
Next, we were brought to the milking room. Our farmer tour guide talked to us about how the cows come into the room onto the platforms, get lined up into the milking stations, their udders are cleaned, and how they get hooked up to the milking machines. We were shown the cooling tank and the large storage tank, too. There is a flow of well water that runs with the freshly pumped milk. A cow's temperature is 101.6 degrees (F), so the milk gets cooled down instantly to 68 degrees (F), then gets cooled down in the storage tank to 38 degrees (F). By the way ~ the farmers are very resourceful! They are able to recycle and reuse the water that becomes heated up, which helps their farms to be a little bit more energy efficient, as it takes quite a lot of energy to have these large dairy farms in operation. The cows are milked three times each day. It takes about two-t0-three minutes for each cow to give its milk, which means by the time one cow is hooked up to the milker, another cow is finished. The udders are cleaned again after the cow gives its milk so no bacteria will infect the cow. This makes milking time a very hectic time around the farm!
These are the cows that make the milk! :) We were enlightened with the fact that cows do not lay down because it's going to rain. They lay down to digest their food!
The cows' bedding is also a product of recycling. It's manure! :P We were shown how the manure is scraped out and put through a process to separate the solids from the liquids. The dry solids are used for the cows' bedding (and some of the farms sell it to the public for use in gardens), and the liquids are stored in a large tank for use as fertilizer on the farm. Interesting! :D
Cows apparently need to have things stay as routine as possible. They don't
do well with change. When the cows are stressed, they don't let their milk down, so the farmers do their best to keep the cows as comfortable and happy as possible.
Cows drink about a bathtub full of water and eat about 40 pounds of food every day! Cows have 32 teeth and do not have front teeth on the top of their mouths. Instead, they have a tough pad of skin to help them grind their cud. Also, cows do not have four stomachs, rather they have four digestive compartments in their stomach. One compartment holds partially digested food, where good bacteria aids digestion and provides protein for the cow; One compartment lodges things the cow probably shouldn't have eaten, like hardware or pieces of fencing, so these things don't travel further through the cow's digestive system and cause damage to the cow; One compartment acts as a filter; The fourth compartment is similar to a human's stomach.
The children really enjoyed interacting with the cows. :) I think the cows were equally as happy to have the company! :P It was funny to see the different personalities of the cows.
At one point, one of these cute and curious cows began reaching its tongue out as far as it could to have a taste of my purse! I don't know what she liked so much about it, but she took a good four or five licks. :P I ended up with cud remnants as a souvenir.
Part of the plan for the visitors to the farm was a horse-drawn sleigh ride. Connecticut was forecasted to receive about a foot of snow just a few days prior to the event, so a sleigh ride would have been a fantastic touch. However, the storm stayed off to Connecticut's south and not a flake fell from the sky. It didn't matter, though. The horses were decked out in their jingling bells, pulling a large red sleigh around the perimeter of the field. Visitors to the farm waited in line for their turn to snuggle under the faux fur blanket and enjoy the farm's scenery to the sound of the horses' bells. Of course, the horses were Little Miss's favorite attraction.
Our final stop, and probably the most popular item at Graywall Farms that day, was the giant farm tractor. This thing was TRACTOR-ZILLA! :P Daddy waited at the back of the line with the Little Boy for quite a while until they were finally able to get their turn to jump inside and check it out. Yes, I said 'they!' I'm not sure who was more excited about getting inside "tractor-zilla." :P
It's amazing to see the kind of equipment needed to keep a dairy farm operating. Not only that, but the dedication required by the farmers. The Winter Farm Tour helped us to appreciate what goes into producing our Farmer's Cow favorites and how important supporting local agriculture really is. :)

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