I like milk. I like butter. I LOVE cheese. So when my mom asked if I wanted to go to Fair Oaks Farm for dairy tour, I said, “Why not!” We arrived around 8:30 and were first to line up outside the red barn doors for our tickets. It was a good thing too because about ten minutes before opening, a bus load of, I kid you not, Amish families arrived. I thought it strange that the Amish would visit a dairy farm. Don’t they do this kind of work every day of their lives? I guess the appeal is in the modernization. We had limited time on this Saturday, so I was just glad that we wouldn’t have to be on the second or third tour of the morning due to the size of their large group.
After purchasing tickets, we were ushered to the bus line to wait. Inside the main building were some interactive displays and games like out-milk your opponent. Since we would be on the first bus of the day, there was no time to really explore this area. A few minutes later the Holstein-colored bus was arriving to take us to one of the eleven dairy farms in the cooperative.
As we rode through the corn and alfalfa fields, an informative recording explained what we were seeing and what we would be seeing. First stop was the feed area and barns. Our driver pulled us into the barn far enough to see that the pregnant cows were free roaming. It was a hot and humid day so the fans were blowing as the farmers tried to keep the cows cool. Apparently cows can handle temperatures from 10 to 75 degrees. Anything cooler or warmer slows milk production. The cows we were seeing were in their dry period the couple of months before giving birth.
From the maternity barn we ventured on to what reminded me of the calf playpens. New calves were lined up on both sides of the bus. Each calf had its own dog house looking shelter. Each calf came to greet the bus as we slowly drove through.
From there it was into the milking barn. Here is where farming meets technology. We disembarked the bus and made our way to a gallery looking over a cow carousel. 72 cows ride the carousel at a time and are milked every seven hours producing about 70 pounds of milk per cow per day. Three men ensure that the milking process is sanitary. The first one disinfects the utters, the second attaches the milking contraption, and the third applies some kind of iodine, if I remember correctly, to keep the udder healthy. The cows are conditioned to this process and know when their ride is over. They back out and return to the barn just like kids getting off the ride at a carnival.
A short ride deposited us at the main complex where we were encouraged to visit the birthing barn and watch a cow give birth. They claim that there are between 80 to 100 births each day on their 11 farms. To help people come to the birthing barn at the opportune time, there is a stoplight outside the barn. Red means nothing is going on, yellow means the hooves are showing, and green means the head is out. The first time we entered the birthing gallery, the light was yellow. The cow was on display behind a glass wall giving us a full show of her calf about to be born. Unfortunately we were not able to wait for the entire birth to take place because we had to catch the pig bus for our “Pig Experience.”
The pig farm is only a few years old. Pigs are extremely susceptible to diseases, especially respiratory ones, so the farm has measures in place to make sure that none of the visitors’ germs come in contact with the pigs. Even the farmers that work there each day are required to take a shower upon entering and then put on their uniform.
Again, pressed for time, we just wandered around the building at our own pace. This allowed us to see many sows with their new piglets. In fact, as we walked in, one sow was in the process of giving birth. The slippery little piglet shot out like a greased watermelon before an employee came over and wiped it down and moved it so mama pig wouldn’t crush it.
We continued our self guided tour coming upon a window where one of the employees was holding one of the newest arrivals. It was squealing something awful until she stuck her finger in its mouth. Then through a two-way intercom, she answered any question posed about pigs.
After a quick lunch at The Farmhouse Restaurant it was back to the birthing barn because who doesn’t want to watch a cow give birth after eating three beef sliders? The light was green when we arrived, but we could only see the hooves. Mom and I waited while Dad went to raid the cheese and pastry shop. He returned and there was still no calf. The poor cow looked like she was struggling and not much later she was removed from our view to the barn. So my quest to see a live calf birth would not be fulfilled this day. We ended our visit with a walk through the nursery. Two calves had been born that morning while we were on our other tours.
While the Fair Oaks Farm tours were interesting, my favorite part was the restaurants, especially the cheese served at said restaurants. So the next time I drive up to my parents’ house I would probably stop, but just for the cheese. Oh, and I also hear the ice cream is to die for.