There was a long time running television segment as part of the Art Linkletter show in the days of my youth called “Kids Say the Darndest Things!” Our creamery, nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains, had its annual fall open house on one of our dairy farms, with a theme of “honor thy customer.” Well, we were not part of a television show, and it was a combination of children and adults, but people asked the darndest questions!
A bright, crisp fall day, tinged with autumn color was the backdrop for 5,000+ visitors to the dairy that day. Eighteen educational events were strategically placed on the farm so the public could gain a better understanding of the farm's practices and meet the people that make the creamery’s products.
Our team of four was responsible for the cow milking exhibit. Two of our pet Brown Swiss cows, Phyllis and Connie, provided the education and entertainment at our station. The throng of visitors who waited in line had some interesting questions for our team during the day.
Why do the cow’s ribs show? Are they starving?
Well, dairy cows, as opposed to beef cows, are bred for milk production rather than muscle mass that would cover the ribs. We indicated that despite drinking a bathtub of water per day and consuming 50-75 lbs. of feed, it is normal to see ribs.
Do dairy cows get time off?
We explained that the cows are normally milked about 300 days and then they take two months off. A lady from Europe commented in her foreign accent that it sounds “very European.” We indicated that it was necessary for optional milk production, and a cow must calve to lactate.
Do brown cows produce chocolate milk?
This was one of the most common questions. No, cows give white milk. The flavoring added to our chocolate milk often comes from the African continent. Many were surprised to learn that the fresh milk is body temperature, and it is not cold.
Are bulls the only ones with horns?
This big question was probably due to seeing cows with horns on cartoons. Most dairy breeds have horns; however, some of the sire studs are selecting for polled animals. Both heifers and bulls have horns, and we humanely dehorn them for safety reasons.
Can we purchase raw milk?
This question was asked by about one in 40 people. In our state it is illegal to sell raw milk, and violation carries a steep fine.
How often are cows milked?
Our cows are milked twice per day, every day, at 4:00 a.m. and 3:00 p.m. We explained that on some farms that have new robotic milking machines that are “self-serve,” some cows prefer to be milked up to seven times per day, particularly in early lactation
This is just a sampling of the myriad questions asked that day. Whether you are a livestock, grain, fruit or horticulture producer, you must realize agriculture is a minority business in numbers. Those connected to agriculture must be advocates and ambassadors of our industry to public representatives, children, adults, and the public in general.
Editor’s note: Dave Kohl, Corn & Soybean Digest trends editor, is an ag economist specializing in business management and ag finance. He recently retired from Virginia Tech, but continues to conduct applied research and travel extensively in the U.S. and Canada, teaching ag and banking seminars and speaking to producer and agribusiness groups. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.