While the land has been in our family since the mid 1700’s, Richlands Dairy Farm has been operational since the first cow walked down the driveway in 1952. Today, Richlands is home to nearly 400 animals from our newest calf to our oldest retiree Quasi (18 yrs old). However, not all of those animals produce milk. Only about 170 cows are giving milk at a time, the rest are too young to give milk or are on their vacation from being milked.
As dairy farmers, our primary concern is making sure that our cows & calves are happy and healthy. That means that 365 days a year we are committed to feeding, cleaning up after, taking care of and milking our cows. When people visit the farm one of the most common comments we hear at the end of a tour is, “I had no idea the cows were so well taken care of!” One woman even told us that after seeing how well the cows are treated, she was switching from soy milk back to dairy milk! We invite you to come visit during one of our events and see the farm for yourself, but until then, here’s a quick look.
We have mostly Holstein cows. They are either black and white or red and white spotted dairy cows. (Think Chick-Fil-A cows and you know what we are talking about.) . They give more milk than a Jersey Cow (little brown dairy cow) but not as much butterfat. So, when we decided to build Richlands Creamery, we started cross-breeding Holsteins to Jerseys and then to Swedish Red. So now, we have more brown, red and speckled cows in the herd with the Holsteins. The Jersey and Swedish Red genetics contribute more butterfat to our milk which is good because fat is what makes ice cream delicious!
Where the Cows Live
Our cows mostly live in their barn but can go outside too. A big part of our job is to make sure the cows are comfortable and to do that we have to understand their needs. For instance, a cow gets hot at around 75 degrees F and doesn’t get cold until below freezing. So in the summer time she wants to spend most of her time in the barn underneath the sprinklers and fans to keep cool. But in the winter time, a nice little nap outside in the sun when it’s 30 degrees is perfect. Their barns are bedded with sawdust to keep them clean and dry and there is always plenty of food for them to eat whenever they want.
What the Cows Eat
Did you know that cows have 4 stomachs? That’s why they can eat grass and we can’t. Cows need a lot of forage (or grass) to stay healthy. We raise our own corn and grass to harvest and feed the cows. While you may not think of corn as a grass it actually is. In addition it is also a grain, a fruit and a vegetable depending on what part of the plant you are eating and what stage of growth it was harvested. We chop the entire corn stalk into little pieces and turn it into silage. So, silage is mostly the grass part of corn plus some corn grain.
Our cows have their own nutritionist who balances a healthy diet for them called a TMR (total mix ration) that is made up of mostly grass and corn silage. In addition to their TMR some of them get hay and/or can go outside and eat some grass as well. The biggest reason we feed them a TMR is because we can feed them a consistent diet whatever the season or weather may be. For instance, in winter or if it is a dry summer there is not a lot of grass for them to eat but by storing our own silage and feeding a TMR they can eat a balanced, healthy diet all year regardless of other circumstances.
Why & Where the Cows are Milked
Did you know that cows must have a baby to start making milk? Cows are pregnant for 9 months just like people. The first time a heifer (young female cow) gives birth she starts making milk and will go into the milking parlor for the first time.
Have you ever been nervous about doing something for the first time? Cows can be nervous too, especially heifers when it is their first time going to the milking parlor. It is something they have never experienced before. Sometimes they need a little encouragement, reassurance, and training to become relaxed. The whole goal of the milking parlor is to make it a pleasurable experience for the cows so they want to be milked. For example, the milking unit (the thing that milks the cow) is designed to feel like a calf nursing so it is a very natural feeling for them.
The cows are milked two times per day. The first cow in the parlor “works” approximately 15 min in the morning and evening. That means her whole workday is 30 minutes. The last cow in the parlor spends the majority of her time waiting which might cause her entire workday to be 2 hours long. That leaves 22 hours of free time for the cows. They spend most of this time eating, drinking, sleeping, and socializing with other cows.
Did you know that cows also get a break from being milked? When a cow who is currently in the milking herd is 7 months pregnant we stop milking her so she can have a 2 month vacation. During this time she spends her day eating, resting and doing cow things in general with her buddies.
The Calves (Baby Cows)
Richlands houses between 20-60 calves at a time. When a new calf is born, it stays with the mother for a period of time. Then it is taken to the nursery for several reasons. These reasons include:
Colostrum: A calf is born with no immune system and must drink colostrum to obtain its immune system and be able to fight infection. Just like humans, the first milk a mother cow produces is called colostrum. This colostrum contains the antibodies the calf needs to kick start its own immune system.
When a cow produces colostrum there is a lot of variability. For example, a cow can give great colostrum and the calf could have a good immune system OR a cow could have poor quality colostrum and put the calf at a significantly increased chance of mortality because of an insufficient immune system. To make sure every calf gets the best possible start in life, we save the colostrum from the mother, test it to make sure it is good quality colostrum and then feed it to the calf.
Climate control: Winter: Calves become chilly around 50 degrees F which is much sooner than their mothers. If the calves stayed with the cows they would be extremely cold and that would put them at greater risk of getting sick.
Once the new calf is clean, dry, and fed they move to individual stalls where they develop and gain their strength. They are housed individually because their immune system is still developing. Once they are strong and healthy they move to group pens with “buddies” and learn to drink from an automatic calf feeder (ACF). The ACF allows the calves to eat up to 3 gallons of milk a day at their leisure. However, these calves are still infants and not allowed to go outside…yet. Once the calves are established eaters and have strong immune systems they graduate to a group that has free access to the fresh outdoors.
Once a calf has finished the period of their life where they drink milk, they transition to a grain and hay diet and then move to a silage diet. If this is confusing, think of it in human terms, a human infant drinks milk, then moves to baby food, then to solids. The progression of the calves is milk, grain/hay, then silage. The weaned calves and older heifers have 100% access to pasture. They will stay this way until they have a calf of their own and become a milking cow at around 2 years old.
What happens to the bull calves? Bulls do not give milk. We also do not typically keep a bull for reproductive purposes because bulls tend to be more aggressive to both humans and cows, they can become very large and actually injure the cows, and they can carry STDs. So the bull calves are raised with the heifers until about 4 months of age. At that point they are separated from the heifers and go to their own pasture with other bulls. At approximately six months of age or 500 lbs they are sold either privately or on the open market.
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