I recently had the special privilege of participating in a farm tour hosted by the Midwest Dairy Council. This tour introduced many of the influencers in our group to a wonderful agricultural experience: the real-life, 24/7 process of operating a large dairy farm. It was an incredibly informative day and I’m excited to share my notes with you!
Located in Linn, KS, Ohlde Dairy is one of 4 dairies in the county. (At one time, there were upwards of 25 dairies in Washington County!) You can read HERE how Ohlde’s Dairy started from it’s very humble beginnings with only 3 cows and has now grown to 1150!
Here are some interesting facts specific to Ohlde Dairy and the Ohlde Family:
- In Ks, Oldhe is an average size dairy farm.
- 1150 cows are milked each day. They milk around the clock, 3 times daily, each milking shift taking about 7 ½ hours!
- It takes approx. 4 ½ minutes to milk each cow.
- 23 employees plus the family work in the dairy and on the farm.
- Ohlde Dairy is a 3 generation farm (supports 3 farm families) and was started by the Grandparents, Robert and Norma Ohlde, in 1955, both still living and active in the dairy!
- 2 loads of milk every day is shipped from Oldhe dairy. Cows don’t stop milk production just because it’s the weekend – it’s a 24/7 gig.
- Each Holstein cow at Ohlde Dairy weighs about 1500 lbs., eats about 100 lbs of feed, and drinks 50-60 gallons of water per day.
- Our host, Steve Ohlde, 2nd generation dairy farmer, has 4 sons. 3 of them work on the dairy with him each day. The 4th son works in Kansas City, but his work is centered around dairy products, too.
- Steve wasn’t even born when his parents actually started the family Dairy in 1955, but he came along soon after – said his Mom often tells the story about how they’d put him in a 5 gallon bucket to keep him contained while they milked!
- Steve and his wife just recently added their first grand baby to the family, so maybe it will be a 4 generation Dairy farm one day?
- Oldhe Dairy has had a long term relationship with KSU for best practices, research, and breeding and will continue this.
- Ohlde Farms recycles as many things as possible – always have, always will! Just one of the resources they recycle is manure! The manure from the cows is gathered and applied to the farm fields so it can work into the soil as fertilizer.
- Ohlde Farm also raises crops – all of which go to feeding their dairy cows.
Q and A with Steve:
What do you want people to know about dairy farming?
What we do is very important and we take pride in how we do it. Bringing people here to the farm to see it for themselves is very important. You’ve been here and you’ve seen what we do and how we take care of our animals……cow comfort is key. Now we’d like you to tell others what you’ve seen here for yourself. When you do this, you’re helping us tell our story!
The movement to support local foods – does that help or hurt Ohlde Dairy?
Even though our dairy name isn’t on the actual product that is sold in the stores (the processor’s name is on the product), it does help support Kansas farms when people purchase products local to their own area.
The Milking Floor at Ohlde Dairy
Ohlde Dairy hosts a Parallel Parlor where the cows are milked – 16 cows on each side. It is called a Parallel Parlor because the cows are milked from behind! (cool, huh?)
Here’s how it’s done:
The lead cow comes in to the milking parlor, and the other cows all follow along.
Each cow “assumes the position” in her own milking station/stall (they simply stand there).
Each udder is hand wiped with a sanitizing anti-bacterial wipe by the milking attendant. (The udders are also wiped and sanitized AFTER milking as well. This is because when the milking unit automatically removes itself, the opening in the teat is still open and bacteria can sometimes make it’s way into that opening – wiping the udder down after milking lessens this likelihood.)
Once the udder is sanitized by the milking attendant, he or she attaches the milking unit onto the udder by lifting it up into place, so it can attach itself to the teats of the cow. These milking units are connected to a computerized milking system that reads an electronic sensor that is in the ear of each and every Ohlde cow.
After about 4 – 4 1/2 minutes, the computer determines that the cow’s milk has been extracted, and the milking unit releases itself from the udder and gently slides off. Once each cow in that round of milking is finished, the lead cow moves out of the milking parlor and the other cows follow right behind her and the entire process begins again with a whole new round of cows.
Technology at Ohlde Dairy
Thanks to technology that’s now available, dairy farmers have much better access to the information they need to keep their cows healthy and their operation running as smoothly as possible. Based on the information gathered from the sensor placed in each cow’s ear, the dairy farmer can see how much milk a cow is giving and when/if this fluctuates. If there’s a fluctuation in milk production, this can be cause for concern because it can be an indicator of a health problem. Or the fluctuation could possibly just be an indicator of a cycle change for that cow. Either way, having quick access to this type of info really helps a dairy farmer be able to address changes immediately.
The sensor in each cow’s ear also helps with easy access of other important information, such as ID and history of each individual cow as well as nutrition and ration (the dairy has a nutritionist who determines the dietary needs of each cow based on where they are in the lactation cycle).
Did you know there are even cow pedometers at some dairy farms? Yes, COW FIT BITS! Farmers are interested in the number of steps their cows take since an active cow likely means that something’s up! Increased steps can be an indication of an approaching breeding cycle, the cow is possibly getting sick, or she may be upset about something. A calm cow, quietly chewing her cud and relaxing in the sand, near the others is a good, good thing! A good herdsman can even evaluate how a cow is walking to determine when something is wrong. You can read more about Cow pedometers HERE.
Just like every industry, technology is really being embraced on dairy operations, and many are working towards robotics for certain aspects of the milking process. (Ohlde Dairy doesn’t incorporate robotics as of yet)
Ohlde Free-Stall Barn: So Relaxing, I Wanted to Take a Nap!
The big breezy free-stall barn at Ohlde Dairy provides a comfortable housing area for the cows. It was neat to enter this barn and notice how quiet it was in there. No cows were mooing at all! They were so relaxed and contented, as calm as could be. Many cows were laying on their bedding areas that are made up of sand. We learned that sand is the bedding preference in a stall barn because it can be washed often and 90% of it is recycled back into the barn as clean bedding for the cows. Also, and very importantly, because sand is inorganic, bacteria has a very difficult time growing in it.
The sides of the free-stall barn can be opened to let the breeze flow through (directed by giant fans along one side of the barn), or closed to keep the cold wind out during the winter season.
Dairy Cows are:
- Thrilled when it’s 44 degrees outside, proving they enjoy the colder months much more than summertime. (This is also why their milk production drops in the summer months, typically.)
- Social! They prefer to be in a gathered together. When cows are gathered together into a herd, they are socializing with each other in a way that brings them comfort.
- Happy doing the same thing day to day – coming in, going out, laying down, they are happy with routine.
Pick Up and Delivery of Milk: From Ohlde Dairy to the Processor
When milk comes out of the cow, it’s about 101 degrees F. and needs cooled immediately to maintain the quality of the milk. To cool the milk quickly, it runs alongside a special water piping system that chills the milk down to 60 degrees F, then the milk is chilled again to reach 39 degrees F. The water that’s used for this chilling process is then recycled for the cows to drink!
Once the milk goes into the holding tank, it’s chilled and waiting for the tanker truck to pick it up. Tanker trucks typically pick up milk from Ohlde Dairy twice a day and deliver it (chilled) to the processing plant where it’s bottled and then delivered to stores to be sold at retail.
The processing plant decides (based on their buyers) what is done with the milk that’s delivered to them, such as whether it’s made into cottage cheese, yogurt, etc, or remains in its fluid state. All Ohlde milk remains as fluid milk and is bottled for stores.
**Interesting Milk and Nutrition facts!:
When milk is processed, all fat is removed. Then, depending on which milk they are working on, (such as skim, 2%, whole, etc) the fat is added back.
Though processing plants put different labels on for different companies, virtually all of the product they receive and then package is the same product with the same nutritional value. Also, organic and traditional milk have the very same nutritional value.
Is Milk from Ohlde Dairy Antibiotic Free? Yes!
Dairy farms sign an affidavit with their milk co-operative (this is who picks up the milk and delivers it each day to the processing plant) agreeing not to sell milk that contains antibiotics. (Ohlde Dairy is part of the Dairy Farmers of America Co-operative.)
Here’s How It’s Handled:
Upon arriving to pick up milk at dairy, the DFA truck driver tests the milk for antibiotics before accepting it onto his tanker. If the test reveals there are antibiotics in the milk, it’s called “hot”.
When the driver delivers the milk from his route to the processing plant, it is again tested for antibiotics at the processor. If the processor discovers any milk from that delivery that is considered to be “hot”, the entire load is rejected and then traced back to the exact dairy farm from which it came. That dairy farm not only has to pay for the entire tanker truck load of milk (costing upwards of $10,000!) but is also responsible for disposing of the entire load of milk so that it is never re-used for anything.
Testing used for antibiotics is ultra sensitive: if a single drop of contaminated milk was dropped into an athletic-size swimming pool, antibiotic residue could be detected.
But What About When the Cows Get Sick? How Do They Recover?
Because there ARE times that sick cows need to be treated with antibiotics, there is milk that will test positive for antibiotic residue. The cows being treated are kept in a completely separate area and their milk is kept in a separate holding tank, never combined with other milk.
And What About Hormones in Milk?
bST (bovine somatotropin) is the naturally occurring hormone that is in ALL milk. rBST (recombinant bovine somatotropin) is a synthetic milk hormone (but it is a protein hormone, not a steroid) that can be given to dairy cows to help increase milk productivity – it’s like an extra boost for their metabolism. Dairy farmers sign an affidavit with their coop saying they won’t use rBST; they are then paid a premium for their milk by the coop.
Why Don’t the Dairy Cows Have Calves at Their Side?
Think of it this way: Beef cows are the stay-at home moms – their calves stay with them out in the pasture. Dairy cows are the workin’ moms – the dairy farmers take care of their “kiddos” for them so they can continue to work and provide milk.
Dairy calves are weaned from their mammas within hours of being born. They are moved to their own individual calf hutch and immediately fed colostrum to strengthen their immune system, then bottle fed milk twice a day for 3 months.
When the calves reach approx. 350 lbs. they are moved to another location on the Ohlde Farm just down the road. The male calves (bulls) are typically sold, and the female calves (heifers) are raised up to become milk cows on the Ohlde Dairy.
About Midwest Dairy Council
Midwest Dairy Council is a grass roots and farmer driven organization that has a membership of 8,000 farm-family licensed dairies from 10 Midwest states. These members are involved in how the Midwest Dairy Council operates and what it does on behalf of their dairy farms.
Each dairy pays $.15 for every 100 lbs of milk they sell to their coop. This $.15 is a mandatory fee that funds Midwest Dairy Council and this is referred to as Checkoff money. Checkoff funds are primarily used for research (new dairy products and nutrition), promotion and marketing of dairy products, and grants. Checkoff monies also fund various educational programs such as:
- School Nutrition Team
- Retail programs – such as the Dairy Academy where dairy case managers can learn more about the products they sell by visiting dairy farms and processing plants.
- Influencer Events, such as our tour of Ohlde Dairy. (Last year Midwest Dairy Council and their members hosted approx. 80 Influencer events!)
Midwest Dairy Council Dietitians who organized and accompanied us to Ohlde Dairy (but not pictured): Marley Sugar, and Robyn Stuewe, Health and Wellness Program Managers. To learn more about Midwest Dairy Council, visit their website.
Fun Dairy Facts I Learned:
- There are 7 breeds of dairy cattle: Holstein, Jersey, Guernsey, Brown Swiss, Ayrshire, Red and White Holstein, Milking Short Horn, (there is also a beef short horn so that’s why they distinguish as Milking Short Horn)
- A single cow gives 100 lbs of milk a day on average (about 10 gallons)
- Most cows spend 10 hours per day chewing their cud to aid in digestion – 50 chews per minute – roughly
- How many lbs of milk does it take to make 1 lb of cheese: 10lbs
- Nationwide, the average size dairy farm has 140 dairy cows.
- 97% of dairy farms are family owned and operated.
The only thing I DIDN”T come away with following my trip to Ohlde Dairy was the answer to this question: Why is a milking parlor called a PARLOR?? Inquiring minds want to know!
Now You’re Cookin’,