IFAS open house lets public see 'where milk comes from'
Published: Saturday, March 16, 2013 at 7:27 p.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, March 16, 2013 at 7:27 p.m.
The indexing rail lifted up and rotated 180 degrees while in the air above the cows, who moments before were chewing their cud while being milked by a machine.
Once those cows exited, a new set passively entered single file — 12 on each side of the milking parlor — and walked up sideways to the guard rail.
"The whole thing is to make it as pleasant as possible for the animals," said Eric Diepersloot, farm herd manager. "And then they come in here knowing what is going to happen – knowing it's a decent experience — and that they are going to get the pressure relieved in their udder."
In a pit between the two aisles of cows, staff observed and then manually milked the teats, looking for abnormalities and priming them for milking. Next, they applied a sanitizing teat dip composed of iodine and emollients. After about 60 seconds, they wiped the dip off.
Once the cows were prepared, the indexing rail loosely closed on top of them, and the guard rail slanted inward so that the cows would be in the proper position to be milked from the side. Finally, the machines were attached and the milking began once again.
This whole process takes about 8½ minutes and is performed twice daily for 500 cows on the dairy farm, producing about 4,000 gallons of milk per day.
Family Day at the Dairy Farm, an open house event held Saturday by the University of Florida and the Institute of Food and Agricultural Science at the UF Dairy Farm in Hague, gave the public a chance to tour the farm, where they could learn about milk production and the research conducted there by UF faculty and students.
"Part (of) it is to show that UF is involved with research in producing milk," said Albert De Vries, assistant professor with UF's Department of Animal Sciences. "Also, we think people are a little further away or removed from how our basic food are produced. So, well, we have this great facility in Gainesville, why not come and actually look at cows and see where milk comes from?"
The dairy farm, which was opened in 1949, was established for research purposes. However, it operates as a commercial dairy farm and sells its milk to Southeast Milk, a dairy co-op located in Belleview, De Vries said.
Those taking the tour were treated to a short hayride from the parking area to the farm in the back of familiar green-and-yellow John Deere tractors. Once at the farm, parents helped their children put on plastic boots over their footwear, a standard protocol on the farm.
Houston Wells, a local actor, was on hand, dressed as Abraham Lincoln. He walked around speaking to families in the signature drawl that people have come to associate with the historical figure. He explained that the Morrill Act, which Lincoln enacted over 150 years ago, set up land grant universities such as UF.
"One of the requirements for the federal land grant for the various universities was that they have a college of agriculture," he said in an interview. "So UF was really, early on, kind of centered around the College of Agriculture, (and) a lot of what we see here around us today can be traced back to Abe Lincoln."
Participants visited 19 stations around the farm manned by faculty members and graduate students. While many of the stations were primarily informative, some provided fun and excitement for children, such as a calf-petting station and a station where kids could shake two-ounce plastic cups containing heavy cream until it became a ball of butter.
Some of the other stations, such as the milking parlor, focused on farm and milking equipment, while others focused on veterinary care, research and the different types of barns.
The farm held its first Family Day event last year, and about 850 people attended. This year, the farm registered more than 1,500 participants and plans to hold another event next year, De Vries said.
Jason Beutke attended the event with his wife, Kristen, and their 2-year-old son and 4-month-old daughter. After seeing an ad for the event, they thought their son, who loves animals, would enjoy it.
Beutke, who said that he has experience on a dairy farm, thought the event was important because there are so many people who are so far removed from agriculture.
"I think it's really good just in general for the public to understand how their food supply works and where it comes from," he said. "So, I think it's a really great event for that purpose."
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