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Where does milk come from?

UF Dairy Farm has the answer

W_-_Dairy_Farm_Open_House_1_SAM_0971_copy  During a recent open house at the UF Dairy in Hague, the public was given a glimpse inside the working dairy and research facility.

HAGUE – Eight-year-old Paris placed her finger into a cow-milking tube. The tube compressed, gently closing up around her finger. Then, it released. Again, it gently compressed and released.

Paris chuckled to her dad, Jeff Thornburg, 45, as the tube compressed. It was her own first-hand experience – from a cow's perspective – of how a cow was milked.

On a recent Saturday, youngsters and adults flocked at the University of Florida Dairy Farm to observe the inner workings of the farm during an open house.

Hosted by the UF Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, Family Day at the UF Dairy Farm brought in more than 800 people.

“A lot of kids never get to see an actual working dairy,” said farm herd manager Eric Diepersloot. “I think this was good [for the kids to see] that the milk comes from the cow and not from the shelf in the store.”

Some 16 areas of interest were available, including a station with cow-feed samples, a dairy product matching game, coloring book giveaways, chocolate milk and a walkway leading visitors between a number of relaxing cows.

A petting station with six-week-old calves was out in the open, surrounded by thin rods. Buckets of cow feed, including corn and corn seeds, and a bucket of water was placed in a holder for each calf.

A little girl dug her hand into the cow feed. “If you ate like a cow, you would have to eat 360 cheeseburgers and drink 600 cartons of milk a day,” read a sign titled “How Much Do Dairy Cows Eat?”

Paris took a short walk with her dad to the milking parlor where other adults and children were already waiting as nearly two dozen large cows weighing about 1,400 pounds each exited the barn where they ate and slept. The dairy farmer opened the gate for the cows to walk into the milking parlor.

“The whole herd doesn't live in one giant group because the big ones would push the little ones around,” said Gary Mitchell, a sales representative from Afimilk, a company that manufactures milk meters.

All milk is tested for bacteria and the presence of any antibiotics before leaving to enter the human food supply, he said. If the milk has either high-bacteria or antibiotics count, the milk has to be disposed of.

“The farm that produced that milk has to buy the whole truckload and is responsible for disposing it,” Mitchell said. “And the value [of the dumped milk] could be enough to put a farmer out of business.”

He said the cost of losing that amount of milk could act as deterrent for dairy farmers to ensure it doesn't happen in the first place.

The UF Dairy Farm, used as a teaching institution, brings vet school health personnel twice a week or when a cow falls sick. In addition to treating sick cows, if a cow is limping badly, a vet can trim the hooves to adjust the footing.

The next tour stop was the barn where the cows generally stay while feeding or resting. An entrance sign said the barn beds were made of sand or water beds to keep the cow's udder and legs healthy. “Cows spend 11 to 13 hours a day lying down,” it read.

Natalia Martinez-Patino, a doctoral student at the Department of Animal Sciences and event volunteer, showed visitors a poster of the several parts of a cow stomach.

As a ruminant, the cow can regurgitate its food until the food becomes minute-substances for the microbes and bacteria in the stomach to eat or break down, she said.

A fistulated cow, which had a hole in its stomach, lay in the corner. The hole, created by a vet, allows researchers to open the window and observe how the cow is digesting its food, Martinez-Patino said.

These cows can also act as a “donor” for other cows, she said.

When a cow falls sick, the cow stops eating as much and the essential microbes and bacteria die.

In response, the dairy farmer takes the substances with the needed microbes and bacteria from the fistulated cow's stomach and gives it to the sick cow.

In another barn, cows have a color chain around their neck. Martinez-Patino said the chain acts like a key. Only the cow with a specific chain can enter its particular gate.

The experiment was to see how much they eat, what kinds of food they eat and how it affects the amount of food the cows produce, she said. Money to conduct research studies came primarily from private companies and federal tax dollars.

Wrapping up her visit to the dairy farm, Paris removed the blue boots she had to wear during the tour. She said her most memorable moments included walking through the barn and seeing a cow with a window in its stomach.

One word to describe the event: Paris chuckled to the whispering hints of her dad in her ear as she said the word, “Awesome!”