My first experience with milking an animal came in my mid-teens when the Fourth-of-July festival where we moved still had goat milking contests. Did I even know that goats gave us milk? That poor nanny-goat! I was the first contestant to milk and I didn’t want to touch her, didn’t know how to touch her; the mortification at being in front of all of those people who probably knew just what to do to help her out was secondary to my pity for her having to put up with my clumsy attempt. Not a drop of milk went into the milk bottle provided – only managed to produce a few drops, wasted on the ground.
Fast forward to my visit last week to the Nelson Faria Dairy in Royal City; cows,this time. Twelve thousand head of bovine in all stages of growth but ‘only’ about 4500 milking cows. Can you picture that? Feeding, cleaning, and milking twice-a-day that many cows? If you enjoy your Greek yogurt, lattes or mocha, ice cream and cheese cake (lucky you – I am allergic to milk!) this is where it starts.
I must say, these are definitely some happy cows. They were as curious about us as I was about them – wonder what their blog about that visit would sound like. Most striking to me was the size of their tongue and how much they lick; they are always licking something (salt licks, concrete barricade, metal rails, etc.). Knowing they had coarse hair and weren’t soft to touch I wasn’t eager to reach out to pat any of the heads and risk becoming a target for a tongue. Brain power isn’t a strong point of cattle and my arm would probably have been just fine to lick in their opinion; no thank you.
Four to five semi-trucks of milk leave this dairy daily, primarily headed to Dairy Gold plants in Sunnyside, Chehalis or Lynden here in Washington State. Naturally, everything that can be mechanized is mechanized. People sanitize the cows utters and connect the milking apparatus, but computers milk, release the apparatus, test, filter and store the milk at just the right temperature. People clean and sanitize and make repairs when necessary to the tanks and tubes between fillings and they work the machinery that cleans the bedding in the pens (much like a kitty litter box on a grand scale) and adds the fresh dry bedding.
People determine the diet of each cow according to her immediate needs (based upon where she is in her calving and milking cycle); people transport the base materials of that food from storage piles, but it is a computer that ID’s the cow and mixes her food properly. The computer also knows when to clean the milking parlor and various paths between the stalls, pens and milking parlor by flooding each area with water.
Grant County is a mecca of agriculture, providing local sources of vegetable waste, stuff I would throw in the compost heap here at home, which helps provide nutritious food sources. Even grape pumice from the wine industry and mint slugs from extraction processes are put to use here. In our hot-dry summers manure is dried to be used as bedding – a common and very accepted practice – throughout the year. (When I was a kid I did a report & learned that dry manure was/is used in brick making which in turn was/is built into houses or burned for fuel inside those houses; so this makes sense to me.) If it is produced it is either sold or used as it is expensive to transport it away to dispose of it (and we don’t want it in our landfills, thank you). Efficiency is the name of the game or your Greek yogurt and ice cream would cost way more.
It seems everything about this place is monitored and measured; even the ground to be sure there is no wastewater runoff which might contain bacteria leaving via a subterranean route. Crazy place a dairy, no down time when you have to milk that many cows and nothing left un-inventoried. A community unto itself way out in the hills, surrounded by potato fields (potato waste is part of the food cycle of these cows) where the cows are coddled and the humans bust-it 24/7/365 to keep them happy.