Monthly Archives: January 2012

A Day in the Life of the Dairy Herd

After last week’s introduction to the variety of farm animals, this posting is intended to give you an understanding of the daily rhythms and movements of the dairy herd during the winter. The entire rhythm will change sometime in late April/beginning of May, when the cows start grazing on the pastures, again. Until then, the milking cows basically repeat the same cycle twice each day and we might just start with their march into the milking barn to get -guess what?- milked… They march into the barn around 5:00am and then again at 2:30pm (it’s pretty obvious, when I was there to take this picture…)

But before the milking, the cows receive a treat in form of a little grain meal of milled barley, that is milled right here on the farm. 

In the old-fashioned dairy barn, each cow has her accustomed stanchion and their heads get locked in so they remain in place and each is assured her ration of grain. They all get different rations based on the point they are in their lactation. Those in their peak get 1/2 a scoop, while those who are towards the end only receive 1/4 or none at all.

Here you see Emma enjoying her barley meal.

The milking happens with four to six portable milking machines that attach to the udder and get hooked into the stainless steel pipeline leading to the bulk tank in the dairy. The cow being milked in the following picture is Sorrel.

The hip bar does not hurt the cows as long as they stand calmly. It gets put on for the milking to prevent attempts at kicking the milking machine (or the farmer/apprentice). Once the milking is completed, the bar gets removed and often the cows lie down for a nice rest and some chewing of cud.

Once the last of the ~55 cows is done milking (it takes +/- 2 hours), the entire herd moves from the old dairy barn (on the right) to the new loafing barn (on the left). That happens at around 8:00am and again at 5:30pm.

Here, a long row of delicious hay is waiting to be eaten.

Again, the cows’ heads are locked into place to assure that each has access to hay and can eat calmly without worrying about being bullied around by higher-ranking individuals. This arrangement also assures that the hay stays clean and does not get trampled and mixed with manure.

After about three hours (at around 11am and again at 8:30pm), the locks get released and the cows are free to move around within the loafing barn or to wander into the barn yard.

By 11am, there will have been a few minutes of impatient mooing from the group of small calves, who are now released and free to go find their mothers.

Barley and her steer calf Bar.

Cinnamon and her steer calf Cin surrounded by the dairy herd.

After they have drunk their fill, the calves gang up in small groups of similar age and go exploring on their own.

The three steer calves Equ (of Equinox), Cin (of Cinnamon), and Bar (of Barley).

During the period from 11am to 2:30pm, as well as all through the night, the milking cows can freely move between the barn yard and the barn…

The animal standing on the right is Easy, the bull who is currently the sire of the dairy herd. Next to him is Nimbus, who was in heat on the day the picture was taken.

Nimbus is going for a stroll in the barn yard.

By 2:30pm, the calves are sent back into their pen.

Little Nettle has watched her mom Noodle go into the dairy barn and calmly walks back to her own pen.

And the cows return to the dairy barn for a second serving of barley meal and the afternoon milking.

After the milking, around 5:30pm, the herd returns into the loafing barn for a big dinner of hay.

In the meantime, the pigeons line up on the roof of the loafing barn.

While the cows are having their dinner, it gets dark and the barn becomes a bright beacon in the early night. (In case you wonder how this image below came to be: Conrad did a very long exposure without the use of flash)

At around 8:30pm, the cows are released and free to move around for the night.

While some choose to stay behind, most cows move out into the barn yard for some fresh air and a drought of water.

The lights in the barn remain on for a few more moments, while the farmers ready everything for the night.

And then it is “lights off”, even for the cows…

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Posted by on January 27, 2012 in Agriculture


Farm Animals

In winter, things seem quiet on the farm. The grass did finally turn tan-colored, the ground and streams are frozen. This seemed a good time of the year to invite you to a tour of the “animal facilities” and to introduce the different groups of farm animals…

Approaching the farm from the north-west (i.e., Creekhouse), we see a variety of structures that all have to do with the farm animals. From left to right, there are the old milking barn, the new loafing barn, the manure shed, the hay-storage “bubble” and the animal “bubble”. 

The round bales in the foreground are bedding hay.

The image below shows the barn yard with the animal and hay-storage “bubbles” and the west end of the brand-new loafing barn.

The animal “bubble” houses several animal species and sex/age groups.

These are the bull and heifer calves less than 4 months old, who still get to spend part of the day with their mothers and to nurse from them. They are in the “bubble” for the night and during milking and feeding time of the dairy herd. In the summer, calves of this age group follow their mothers out onto the day pasture and spend 6-7 hours a day with the herd. In the winter, time with mom is reduced to 3-4 hours during mid day.

In the pen next to the small calves are the older heifer (female) calves that have been weaned and are anywhere between 4 months to more than a year old. The Farm & Arts Program is working with the 4th graders at Hawthorne Valley School to allow the children to spend time with the calves of the dairy herd.

The “boys” of that same age group are in the next pen. They include the bulls Max and Bullwinkle (the black one on the right) who are raised as future sires of the dairy herd and the heifers (first time moms). In this pen are also two oxen (one of them is on the left of this group) who are in training as draft animals.

Three sheep live in the pen across the “hallway”. These sheep belong to the Farm & Arts Program at Hawthorne Valley Farm and play a central role in the on-farm experiences offered for children and families. They arrived here last spring as lambs, have been bottle-raised, and during the summer spend their days in a pasture next to the corner garden. They are very socialized, and like to be walked on leashes for daily exercise in the wintertime. The sheep will be shorn in the spring, and their fleece will become an integral part of the fiber arts work in the Farm & Arts Program.This is Stella… and this is Luna. The third one is Lila, whose name means “nightfall” in Hebrew.

Next to the sheep lives the small flock of Farm & Arts chickens in their chicken house that was built last year by the 3rd grade of Hawthorne Valley School.

These chickens have been raised from eggs last spring. One batch hatched in the 3rd grade classroom and the other in the Learning Center and have been loved, held and cared for by many many children. The activity was so successful that it looks as though it might become an annual tradition for the 3rd grades.Our hens are a variety of breeds that give us a variety of delicious eggs. On a really cold and windy day, you’ll see them all huddled together next to the hay bales (and the heated waterer).

At the west end of the animal “bubble” are the pig pens, one for each of the three sows and one for the larger piglets (feeder pigs).

The guy with the white belly and legs is Percy. He is the boar, who was born and raised right here on the farm. He is currently on honeymoon with Bettie.

Next door, Spot has made herself a nest in the hay.

“Do you really need to take a picture of me, right now???”

Marge has currently the youngest piglets. They are about six weeks old.

And they really know how to stay warm in a good nest of hay…

or huddled closely together with mummy and the siblings.

The last pig pen holds the older piglets, the “feeder pigs” who really seem to be eating most of the time…

The pigs are fed whey that is a by-product of cheese-making, as well as an assortment of left-overs from around the farm and store.

Across the barn yard is the large new loafing barn, which houses three groups of cows and two bulls.

These are the older heifers and some steers, who are around 1 1/2 years old. These heifers are not quite old enough to be bred. They have a section of the loafing barn where they can freely move around under the roof and even go out into a fenced-in section of the barn yard to catch some sunshine.

Another section of the loafing barn houses the older heifers (close to 2 years old and old enough to be bred), their bull, and the dry cows (which are dairy cows who are currently not being milked because they are close enough to calving that all their energy is allowed to go towards the developing calf).

During the time when the dairy herd is confined for milking or feeding, the heifers and dry cows get a chance for a stroll in the large barn yard.

But when they get hungry or cold, they’ll come back under the roof and to the nice clean hay offered in the barn.

The animal in the center (below) is Midget, the bull who fathers the heifers.

The young bull Midget comes from Oakwood Farm and is of mixed breed (mostly Red Devon and Jersey).

On the other side of the loafing barn is the section where the cows in the dairy herd do most of their eating in winter. Locking their heads in during feeding time allows each cow, independent of its status within the herd hierarchy, to have access to adequate amounts of hay.

But there is plenty of time during the winter’s days and nights, when the cows can walk around freely within and outside the barn or just rest and ruminate on a thick layer of bedding.

The animal standing on the right is the bull Easy, the current sire of the dairy herd.

Stay tuned for the next blog on “A Day in the Life of the Dairy Herd” to learn more about the rhythms and movements that rule the winter days for the dairy cows and the farmers and apprentices who take care of them.

Finally, somewhat separated from the bulk of the farm animals, are the three horses of the Visiting Students Program, which play a center piece in the farm experience of school classes spending a week at Hawthorne Valley Farm. The children get to feed, groom, and ride the horses and help with the mucking out of their little stable and corral.The Visiting Students Program also is in charge of a large flock of laying hens, which are housed separately.

This is Brownie, the oldest of the three horses, more than 30 years old and now retired from riding.

And these are Spot (on the left) who is also close to 30 years old, but still strong, and eleven-year old Mickey (on the right) who considers herself the boss of the little herd.

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Posted by on January 17, 2012 in Agriculture