In undergraduate classes, all future dietitians daydream about their internship and what it will entail. Never would I have imagined that I would spend a day at a diary farm milking cows… or that I would love it! When we arrived at Carterly Farm in Thorntown, Kelly Mackinnon greeted us immediately. She was glowing, and very obviously pregnant. Her smile was infectious and her positivity set a precedent for the adventure we were about to embark on.
Kelly was ready to show us around the farm, but before we were able to get started, we were given not-so-fashionable plastic shoe covers that were tall enough to resemble boots. First, we were taken to see the forage, and I instantly realized just how important the plastic covers were. There was more than one kind of feed. While I cannot recall all of the components, I do firmly remember a fermented and non-fermented pile. There was also a mention of corn silage. Kelly explained the process of packaging the feed into long covered areas for the colder months ahead while we watched her father skillfully operate the tractor and move the feed around. She appropriately referred to the storage as a “big white worm”.
Moving to the back of the barn, we were able to get a glimpse of the vast field areas and saw our first close-up of the cows! In the spring and summer months, the cows do a lot of grazing, and they had plenty of room for it. We made our way back around the barn to the best part, the babies, but not before stopping to see the mechanical barn rakes that clean out the manure. The calves were AMAZING! They were very friendly, which made me want to call it a day and cuddle up with them. Kelly noticed our excitement and let us stay put for a bit while she explained her participation in an incredible 4-H program where 4-Hers come to work with her calves and show them in the local fair.
Then, it was finally time. We made our way into the barn for the milking process. Stepping in, you immediately notice the giant bulk milk tank. It was an elaborate contraption that kept the milk at just the right temperature, with the ability to cool it down nearly instantly, which is necessary when the cows have an average body temperature around 101° F. Since Carterly Farm supplies to Prairie Farms, Kelly explained their very strict holding process to ensure a safe, quality product.
Moving into the milking area, we stepped down into a lower area while Holsteins lined up on both sides on a higher level, easing the access to the udders. Holy cow, these mommas were huge! We started by checking the foremilk through a process called stripping, which is manually removing a few streams of milk. Then, we used a predip solution to clean the teats, followed by wiping the area clean. The tricky part was next! We attached the milking machines and let them do their work! After finishing, we used a post-dip solution.
The cows were familiar with the entire process and seemed like they actually kind of liked it. In all, we milked 46 cows. I would have gladly milked more if they were ready. I was not ready to leave, but Kelly promised we were welcome to come back again. Experiencing the processes of hands-on milking was an event I will never forget, and positions me to be a better advocate for dairy. I cannot wait until I can go back and do it again!
Written By: Ball State Dietetic Intern, Keya