A moo-ving experience…Denver El students get up close and personal with a dairy herd

By on July 8, 2015

 

LEBANON — If nonfarm children were asked to describe a dairy farm, chances are the same few images might come up &tstr; black-and-white cows grazing on a lush green pasture, fuzzy babies sleeping the day away, big tractors working the soil, and the stench that can only be described as “eww.”

Those are all true, but they don’t totally describe today’s large-scale dairy farms. On top of that, some people believe that brown cows give brown milk or that cows live as long as humans.

In an attempt to debunk some of those myths and open the eyes of their students, learning support teachers Tracy Scipioni and Justin Shober recently brought a bus-load of their students to Meadow Wood Farms in Lebanon.

Photos by Jessica Rose Spangler A highlight of the farm tour for many students was petting two newborn calves.

Photos by Jessica Rose Spangler
A highlight of the farm tour for many students was petting two newborn calves.

The second- through fifth-graders from Denver Elementary spent about half their day with Scipioni and Shober, who instructed them in reading, writing and math, and assist them in science and social studies as needed.

This was the third time Scipioni has taken students on this field trip since she started with Denver Elementary in 2008.

“I think it is beneficial for them to get out in the community and see what is involved in the farming world and the huge role farmers play in our lives,” she said. “Most of my kids don’t get out very often and have a very narrow view of all that goes into getting food on their tables.”

As the students filed off the bus on a humid late spring morning, almost all of them covered their noses and began moaning “eww.”

Farm owner Dave Bomberger opened the tour with a tidbit of farm social studies. He explained that he is the 10th generation on this farm, which was purchased in 1740 from Thomas Penn, the son of Pennsylvania founder William Penn, and that he still has that original farm deed.

Accompanied by farm veterinarian Doug Scipioni, teacher Tracy Scipioni’s husband, Bomberger took some of the farms’ statistics and broke them into easy-to-understand explanations.

The farm milks 800 cows three times a day. Twenty-four cows are milked at one time in a double-12 parallel parlor, and each milking takes about six hours, or a total of 18 hours each day. The cows produce an average of 90 pounds a day, or 125,000 cups of milk, enough for the same number of bowls of cereal each day.

Students were captivated by the mechanical milking of  cows at the farm.

Students were captivated by the mechanical milking of cows at the farm.

To give the farm its “eww” smell, those 800 cows each year produce five million gallons of manure, which is spread on the fields.

Bomberger asked the students: “If a cow can drink 40 gallons of water in one day, how much feed do you think they eat?”

Doug Scipioni added that 40 gallons is about a bathtub full each day. And one cow can eat “You!” he said, pointing to a roughly 100-pound student.

Bomberger had lined up eight containers of feed for the students to look at, each containing an ingredient in a cows’ diet in the quantity she eats.

The students took turns picking up the feedstuffs as he explained what each was — corn silage, haylage, barley hops, cotton seed, corn meal, soybean meal, fat, and yeast.

Meadow Wood Farms owner Dave Bomberger, second from right, explains the different ingredients in a dairy cow diet to students from Denver Elementary.

Meadow Wood Farms owner Dave Bomberger, second from right, explains the different ingredients in a dairy cow diet to students from Denver Elementary.

Meadow Wood Farms expanded in June 2014, adding a second freestall barn and a new parlor with an observation room equipped with a television to screen various closed-circuit camera feeds from the parlor and barns.

Students then got to walk into the parlor and see the cows being milked. The most frequently asked question was, “What’s that blue stuff?”

Bomberger told them it’s called teat dip and is used to kill bacteria on the teat end, one step of many used to keep milk quality high.

Fifth-grader Ella High was surprised to see machines doing the milking.

“I thought (farmers) milked them with their hands, but they use these machines. It’s really cool,” she said.

After learning where their milk comes from, the students entered the barn to see how the cows live. Looking at them quietly munching their ration, student Dalton Schoener asked how old they were.

Bomberger told them a cow has her first baby around her second birthday.

Shocked to hear the cows were so young, many students asked how long they live. Bomberger told them most cows in the herd will live to be 4 or 5 years old, and the oldest that day was 8.

Walking through the barn, veterinarian Doug Scipioni pointed out that the cows were lying in stalls filled with sand. Asked if they knew why the bedding was sand, students responded with such answers as, “sawdust has splinters,” “straw is jaggy,” and “sand is soft.”

All may be true, but the real reason is because it’s inorganic, meaning it doesn’t grow bacteria like sawdust or straw, which helps to keep the cows healthy and the milk quality high.

A student asked what happens to the milk if the ID tags each cow wears tells the computer that her milk quality isn't good. Using the TV screen — which shows a live feed from the milking parlor — as an aid, Dave Bomberger pointed out the milking units and the hoses carrying the milk away. He explained that if the milk isn't good for any reason, the person doing the milking simply punches a code into the computer and that cows' milk is diverted out of the main milk storage tank. By doing this, the farm ensures that only the best quality milk enters the storage tank and ultimately goes for human consumption.

A student asked what happens to the milk if the ID tags each cow wears tells the computer that her milk quality isn’t good. Using the TV screen — which shows a live feed from the milking parlor — as an aid, Dave Bomberger pointed out the milking units and the hoses carrying the milk away. He explained that if the milk isn’t good for any reason, the person doing the milking simply punches a code into the computer and that cows’ milk is diverted out of the main milk storage tank. By doing this, the farm ensures that only the best quality milk enters the storage tank and ultimately goes for human consumption.

The students then watched farm herdsman Joel Rose give injections to a sick cow. Some weren’t the least bit bothered, while others squirmed as if they were getting the shots themselves.

“I really like cows, but I don’t like seeing them suffer,” 12-year-old Sierra Almodovar told this reporter as she pointed to the headlocks.

Told that all the animals in the pen were sick or needed some special attention, and that Rose needed the headlocks to restrain them so he could give them their medicine, Sierra acted slightly surprised but said she understood.

Walking between barns, student Ella High said she felt bad for the cows because they have lots of hair and it was really hot that day.

When the fans and sprinkler system that cools them were pointed out to her, she said, “That’s really neat.”

The students then took a brief “cuddle break” to pet two newborn calves. Third-grader Madison Hartman was surprised to hear that a newborn calf weighs 60 pounds or more, which is as much as she weighs now.

Doug Scipioni then did an ultrasound demonstration. With the hand-held device he uses dozens of times each day, Scipioni reached into the rectum of a cow and projected the image onto a computer screen, showing them a 60-day-old bull calf and all the parts &tstr; head, legs, heart, etc.

The final stop of the tour was a highlight for most students. Doug Scipioni allowed each them, if they wanted, to put on his stethoscope and listen to a cow’s heartbeat.

“It was a soft pounding sound, kind of like my heartbeat,” fifth-grader Dalton Schoener said.

Also, if they wanted to, students could put on a breeding glove and reach into the rectum of a cow.

“That was so cool and really gooy,” fourth-grader Chloe Miller said.

“It was so warm and felt so weird,” third-grader Nick Oxenford said. “I wanted to do it just so I can say I put my hand in a cow’s butt.”

Fourth-grader Clayton Frable wasn’t more than two feet away from the cow before he yelled, “That was awesome!”

One student asked Bomberger how he got the orange ear tags into the cows’ ears. He told the students it’s basically the same as humans getting their ears pierced.

It may hurt for a few hours, he said, but a cow’s ear is mostly cartilage, like a human’s, and the pain goes away quickly. The ear tags display the cow’s ID number and help the farmworkers keep track of each animal.

As the tour drew to a close and students were giggling about the experiences they shared, not one was concerned with the “eww” smell anymore.

Bomberger said he was happy to let them spend a day on his farm.

“I like seeing kids learn about where their food comes from,” he said. “I enjoy seeing people have an interest in dairy, and it’s good for the industry.”

Editor’s note: Meadow Wood Farms herdsman Joel Rose is the father of Lancaster Farming reporter Jessica Rose Spangler.

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