Over the summer I have been working away both at my parents cafe and also an organic dairy farm!
Howarth’s have roughly 300 cattle that go out to pasture throughout the year and stay in barns during the winter months when they have their 60 day dry period. They are fed fermented grass, known as silage, during this time.
I have gained so much confidence around them and patience! Patience is most definitely the key when working with young calves who don’t quite understand how to suckle. Coloured tape on the cows tail tells you what quantity of food they require, and also which have had antibiotics and so must not have their milk enter the tank.
As part of the organic ethos, use of antibiotics must be limited to cases that are severe, such as scour or watery mouth in calves.
The herringbone parlour has 48 stalls with automatic milk clusters that detach once the milk is emptied. Some cows only have three tests that release milk, along with teats that have warts, lumps and bumps, these are not attached to a cluster as it would cause pain, and the somatic cell count of the milk would be unfit for consumption.
Once a fortnight the cows milk is sampled and tested for somatic cell count and tells the farmer how much cattle mix they need for their weight and milk production.
The milk from the tank is collected every other day, with calf milk being tapped off from this supply, and sometime supplemented by dry milk that is mixed with water. Calves are fed twice a day with up to 2 litres of milk into buckets with plastic teats, some calves are however tubed if they struggle to adapt to this. The harsh reality of milking became clear to me when the calf is immediately take away from its mother to prevent a bond forming, but I realised that this was necessary otherwise their would be no milk for the production line that we rely on so heavily. Working in the cafe I realised how profitless we would be without milk! Lattes, butter, cheese all standard cafe products are all derived from milk.
The 6 am start was tough at first but once I got to work I now enjoy the physical challenge, although it can be messy at times! Despite this, once the teats have been wiped with diluted peracetic acid, the clusters can be attached, the whole process is very clean.
It’s safe to say, milking has now become a part of my everyday week, I enjoy spending time at the farm and helping out where I can because in the long run I learn so much and I play a valuable part to their team. I have assured with dehorning and tagging which are difficult concepts for calves to understand. I was even able to imply some knowledge from lambing on how to keep them still when the hot iron was at work on their horns, just tie their back legs together.
Work experience has made me realise how worthwhile the time I spend with animals and employers is to gain the perspectives from both the vet and the client.