Special To The Morning Star
Modern technology has given the milk-producing cow the empowerment of choice, and the DeLaval Automatic Milker is now ‘Bessy’s’ best friend.
It was a steep learning curve for visitors at Riverbreeze Dairy Farm in Spallumcheen recently when its owners, Tom and Jane Boeve and family, hosted an open house on behalf of the Kamloops Okanagan Dairy Association.
A rare event, opening the farm to the public was spurred by what Tom says: “Farms and the general community need to be more connected and aware of the impact of farming on the North Okanagan economy. Farms contribute a substantial amount to this economy each year from buying feed, machines and cost of maintenance, to veterinarian and specialists’ services and so on.”
Riverbreeze Farm has a herd of 240, the majority of Holstein Friesian stock, and is among the 529 dairy farms in B.C. – for a total of 80,000 cows – that are predominantly family-operated.
And there were surprises in store. The large turn-out started the day with a free hearty pancake breakfast served up by the Lion’s Club. After which knowledgeable volunteers, and there were many, guided groups through each stage of operations of a modern farm.
We saw how computer systems have become an integral part of everyday business which in turn, has changed the face of this industry. No more suffering discomfort waiting to be relieved of a bulging bag of milk.
The DeLaval Milker gives ‘Bessy’ the choice of when to be milked. She knows that meandering over to the milking station will be rewarded with a treat of special grain.
On hand was Laura Johnson with an animal science and nutrition degree who explained to awe-struck children, that a cow weighs between 1,200 to 1,400 lbs. and spends five hours a day eating.
Each consumes a daily 50 kilos of feed; mix of dry forage, grass alfalfa silage, corn silage, wheat bran, canola-DDG minerals and vitamins.
Wide-eyed, the kids were struck by the fact that a cow needs to drink approximately 30 to 50 gallons of water to produce 125 lbs of digestive saliva – “all that spit,” said one boy – and rests 12 to 14 hours, either standing or lying down.
We all viewed the ample-sized pens with sand or fine sawdust as bedding. Added care to comfort was a continuously-rotating wide brush that a cow could lean into, and be massaged.
The Mobile Dairy Classroom, an attractive educational trailer built to travel to schools was set up and colourful brochures and illustrative posters were shared.
Dr. Rod Gilmer and several veterinarians, present throughout the farm, explained the herd’s medical needs. Dr.Brian McOnie showed ultrasound images of an embryo calf in gestation, a time period of nine months.
We saw the large pen with thick bedding reserved for expectant cows in their last two months of pregnancy.
Given an enhanced diet, they are pampered. We heard lots of pre-labour moos and laments from that location in the broad barn.
Returning to farm modernization, the DeLaval Automatic Milker Robot drew line-ups who crowded in for the close-up demonstration.
The company’s Project Support Manager, Cal Kwantes, explained how it was invented in the late 1990s in Sweden where it has since been technically-refined.
He pointed out the workings of its camera and two lasers. At the milking station, the camera locates the cow’s utters – each cow does not assume the exact standing spot – then a robot sterilizes, and finally the milking receptacles are guided to precise attachment to each of the four utters.
The cow wears an ear tag which is scanned and records all information of that particular milking; time, date, number of liters and more. A modern farmer now has immediate access to information on each cow’s production. Technology is being put to excellent use.
There was an abundance of printed information on hand.
For example, statistics on farming in Canada where 98 per cent of farms are family owned, one in eight Canadian jobs are in agriculture, almost 25,000 farm operators are under the age of 35 and that Canada is the number one producer of canola in the world.
Ray Baylis, representative for the Chicken Growers Association, provided information on chicken farming and had pullets for viewing.
And Adam Vervoort representing banking for farmers, had flown in from Toronto to add his input and answer questions.
Also made clear was the necessity of protecting our farmlands and farmers, encouraging sustainable agri-practices including assuring clean, affordable water, and the necessity of having all levels of government be involved.
I was appalled to learn that right now zero per cent is received from the Federal Government to support this economically-sustainable industry.
A non-technical aspect I learned about concerns the mentoring of youth as the up-coming generation of farmers. Joy Devos of Waybrook Farm in the Shuswap was happy to explain her commitment to 4-H. She works hard on the farm and yet finds time to keep her branch of 4-H vibrant.
Besides involving children, she stressed the need to also include their parents. As is known, 4-H Clubs have been around a long time and when involved in farming, they have a unique impact.
Not only is content information a focus but caring for an animal fosters responsibility, accountability, team work and sharing, in each of the club’s members.
It was refreshing to hear Joy speak so passionately. We are fortunate to have individuals like her amongst many others, who work with young people in this mentorship role.
Of course a day that started with a farmer’s breakfast had to end with ice-cream; one of the most favorite gifts from cows!
From their kiosk, D Dutchmen Dairy from Sicamous whipped out countless luscious cones. In the hot weather nothing could have served better.
As with others, I came away with a fresh awareness and gratitude for those committed women and men farmers; locally and across our wide country.
They are often un-sung and yet on a regular basis, take personal financial risks, work diligently day in, and day out with the never ending tasks demanded by a farm. All so that we can enjoy good food on our plates.
Where did that litre of milk sitting in the fridge, originate? Now we know precisely.