For 12 hours a day, cows relax, lying on foam mattresses bedded heavily with recycled paper.
There is fresh food available 24 hours a day, and cows take turns eating their fill.
Three times a day, each cow is brought up to the milking parlor, but milking only takes about 15 minutes per cow, leaving plenty of time in her day to groom, socialize and just relax.
This is what life is like for a cow at Butterville Farms in Adams, New York, winner of the 2017 Dairying for Tomorrow Award in the Animal Care category. Butterville is a family dairy with three generations of family and dozens of local community members working on the farm.
For owner Anthony Barney, “Healthy and comfortable cows are our top priority. Our cows come first with every decision and improvement that we make on the farm, because comfortable cows make the best milk.”
In the summer, Barney uses water sprinklers and fans to keep air moving and to keep cows cool. In the winter, curtains are buttoned up on the sides of the barns to keep the cows warm.
“Even when it is below zero outside, it is rarely below freezing inside the barns,” Barney said. “In fact, the most comfortable place for me to be in the heat of summer or the bitter cold of winter is inside the barn with our cows!”
Climate control isn’t where it ends. Barney relies on technology to help provide individualized care to each of his cows. Every cow in the barn wears a collar with an activity monitor, which counts the steps she is taking every day, just like a Fit Bit worn by a human. Barney and his herdsman, Dave Frederick, closely monitor the activity of each cow.
“If a cow strays from her normal activity patterns, she comes up on the computer and I can go check on her,” Frederick said. “Sometimes a cow that isn’t moving around as much is feeling a little under the weather, and we will give her extra attention until she feels great again.”
The cows at Butterville eat a balanced diet consisting of forages and grains grown on the farm, as well as energy and protein sources purchased outside the farm. Barney and Frederick work with Adam Miner, a dairy nutrition consultant from Poulin Grain, to determine what to feed their cows.
“We take a sample of the farm-grown feeds and analyze them for their nutritional content, and then determine what each group of cows needs above and beyond what is grown on the farm,” Miner said. “That way we can make sure that the cows are getting the best nutrition to not only meet their individual requirements, but also to allow them to produce healthy milk for all of us to consume.”
Special care is taken for the nutrition of prenatal cows, who will be giving birth to a baby calf and will start producing milk soon, as well as the future nutrition of the baby calves from birth through adolescence.
Sustainability is also a big factor for Butterville Farms, and once the cow’s needs and milk quality goals are met, Barney’s next priority is to reduce their environmental footprint.
“What’s great is that in a lot of ways, these goals all intersect. For example, leftover paper scraps from Syracuse Fiber are used as bedding on top of mattresses for the cows,” Barney said. “Then, when the stalls are cleaned out, the paper mixes with our cows’ manure and becomes part of the natural fertilizer for our fields, which grow food for the cows for the next year.”
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