Veterinarians, milkers, nutritionists...dairy farmers depend on a variety of support to to ensure high-quality animal care and farming efficiency. Guest columnist and dairy farmer, Carla Wardin, walks us through some of the different skills she relies on for her farm.
by guest columnist Carla Wardin
When people think about a farm, the support system that keeps it running doesn’t always come to mind. In addition to the owners and employees, there are so many industries and specialists that sustain a farm. We work with a variety of skilled consultants to ensure high-quality animal care and farming efficiency.
Veterinarians – Just like human doctors, you don’t always need them; but when you do…there’s no substitute. Vets give our cows internal ultrasounds to check how far along they are in their gestation, help diagnose illness and prescribe medicine. They’ve seen it all, and we truly value having such experienced consultants. We’re lucky enough here that our veterinarians are such great people that they’ve also turned into our friends. It’s great being in a texting relationship with the people who know all the answers!
Milkers – There’s a very deliberate milking procedure on every farm that ensures the cows are clean and have a chance to let down their milk properly. First, we use foamers to clean each teat. Then we ‘strip,’ or squirt, milk out of each teat by hand. Next we wipe them with a cloth towel to make sure they’re clean before we attach the milking unit. Each step is done down the line, starting at the first cow. This way, her udder is stimulated by the human touch, and it makes her milk begin to let down. It’s important… and no one is more important than the people doing it every day, twice a day!
Nutritionists – Our nutritionist has a PhD in animal nutrition. He’s a great guy to consult, because you know he loves it! We chop our own corn and alfalfa, and its composition is changing all the time we’re feeding it – because it’s fermented. To keep track of the protein and energy in the feed, as well as how digestible it is for the cow, we take weekly samples and send them to a lab, which gives us a long report of moisture levels and content. The feed’s composition changes depending on where it is in the field, what field it’s in, and what crop it is. The nutritionist reviews the results, we compare the computer model to what happens in real life, and we modify the ration to make sure the cattle are getting the best nutrition for their needs.
Hoof trimmers – Did you know that cows need attention to their feet, too? The hoof trimmer comes to the farm to clip long hooves (yes, like a pedicure) and treat any problems he sees (like warts). He uses a computerized system to keep track of any problems and treatments. That way, the next time he comes, he has a record for that individual cow and can check on her progress. I’ve never seen any of them put on hoof polish, but we all joke about it!
Those are just a few of the many vital people who contribute to the farm’s success. The farm needs milk haulers, team members feeding the cows and people tending to the calves. We rely on the dairy supply company employees that come to fix machinery in the parlor. We work with mechanics, seed salesmen, insurance salesmen and custom planters. We need barn builders, electricians and cement contractors…the list goes on and on.
A farm is a business that takes so many people to make it all work. It’s a community in and of itself! And last…there are the people who don’t even plan on working here that sometimes end up doing it. That’s right – every once in a great while, the cows get out - and then anyone in the vicinity gets to help chase them in!
Carla and her husband, Kris, are the sole owners of Evergreen Dairy in St. Johns, Michigan. She is the sixth generation to be farming on her family's farm where they milk 400 cows and grow crops to feed their cattle on 850 acres of corn, alfalfa and pasture.
This article previously appeared on U.S. Farmers & Ranchers Alliance (USFRA) website FoodDialogues.com.