This post is sponsored by The National Milk Life Campaign
Last week I drove about an hour into the Virginia countryside to Grazeland. Not the home of a mooing Elvis, but the farm of about 200 dairy cows who provide milk to Organic Valley. I was hosted by Gerry, a regional rep for Organic Valley, and Phillip and Terry, who own and operate the farm.
The farm is right outside of Dayton, Virginia, which is a bit of a hub for dairy farms in the Shenandoah Valley.
If I look cold, I WAS! It was a blustery day, and snow flakes drifted down around us as we toured the property. My toes were completely numb!
I was curious to know all about dairy farming, and this was my first visit to one. I asked a million questions about the process – from calving to nutrition to pasture feeding. I call this my listening face!!
One of my first questions was whether or not the cows were pasture fed 100% of the time. As you might suspect, climates like Virginia’s can’t support year round fresh grass, so farms feed the cows a mixture of hay and a preserved version of the grass they cut down in the summertime. Think of it as humans planting gardens in the summer and pickling veggies to eat in the dead of winter. Phil said the cows love the fresh grass the most (just like we love summer greens and tomatoes off the vine!) but that the hay is the next best thing in the winter time.
We also discussed the calving process, since cows obviously have to have a baby to lactate. They can continue to be milked while they are pregnant until the last few months when they are given a “dry period” to help their bodies focus on growing the baby. Calves were being born the day we were there, but sadly I didn’t get to see one for myself. This little girl was just a day old!
In terms of treatment, I found the farm to be the kind of place I’d want to live if I were a cow. In the summertime, they have a pretty cool “air conditioning” system comprised of fans and misty water – kind of like those fun misters you walk through at theme parks! And in the winter, Terry told me that once it was pretty cold and they went to a thrift store and bought a bunch of wool coats and sweaters to put on the smaller calves. They were all in bright colors and it looked like a cow fashion show!
Hanging out with the teenagers –
The pasture was huge, and there was grass as far as the eye could see. The farm uses a neat portable irrigation system and lots of natural cow fertilizer 🙂 Since it’s an organic farm, you won’t find any synthetic pesticides anywhere.
We went up to the farmhouse to enjoy some tea and snacks and to warm up before going down to see the milking. We had hot green mint tea, homemade ginger cookies and organic milk and cheese sticks to eat!
I LOVED on that fire!
After we were warm and full, we drove back to the dairy to see the cows come in for milking. As herd animals, it was cute to see them all walk in together and line up. They knew just what to do!
I put my finger in their pump and it gently sucked and squeezed at the same time –
I asked Phil if they seemed to like coming to milking (something only someone around cows all day might notice) and he said for sure. Chewing their cud means cows are happy, these ladies were just a’chewin’ away!
I asked Phil if he were a cow would he like to be on his farm, and he pointed out that his cows have every need taken care of – shelter, plenty of food, climate control, medical care…. and love : ) He does have a good point!
I took in a lot of knowledge on the trip, so I’ll do my best to answer any other questions you might have.
Thanks to The National Milk Life Campaign for the opportunity and for sponsoring this post!