In the agricultural community, June Dairy Month is a time to celebrate all things dairy.
We celebrate the hardworking men and women who care for the animals, the delicious dairy products produced right here in New York and the true heroes of dairy: the cows themselves! These black-and-white (and sometimes brown) beauties are truly incredible animals. Their gentle demeanor and curious nature are what drew many of us to work in the dairy industry. Whether as dairy farmers, veterinarians, nutritionists or other consultants, most folks who work on or around farms share a true love of cows.
Farmers also share the values of hard work and the self-fulfillment in being able to see the physical evidence of a job well done: a freshly plowed field ready to plant or a harvest of corn silage securely stored in the bunker silo for the year ahead. Equally satisfying is witnessing a herd of cows contentedly munching on their breakfast or a newborn calf taking its first wobbly steps after being assisted through a difficult birth. Simple as they might seem, all of these sights feed the soul of the dairy farmer.
I had the blessing of growing up on a dairy farm in Schuyler County. From a young age, I enjoyed helping on the farm. My parents encouraged me to follow my own path, never pressuring me to work in agriculture or come back to the home farm. I landed two counties away but still in the midst of the dairy farming community.
As an Extension educator, I enjoy working with and supporting the outstanding farmers in our region. From workshops and conferences to farm tours and phone calls, my colleagues and I strive to bring the latest advances in dairy farming to the producers right here in the Finger Lakes. Cornell University’s vast network of researchers and specialists across the state ensure that our dairy farmers can stay on the cutting edge of advances in dairy farm technology and management.
Farmers on the cutting edge of technology? If you are picturing dairy farmers as overall-wearing, straw-hat-donning, straw-chewing old men, you are a little off track. While some of today’s farmers do fit that mold, many do not. Besides a change in apparel, today’s farmers rely on smartphone apps to check cows’ health records, computer software to steer their tractors and apply fertilizer with precision and activity monitors to track cows’ steps. The farmer is alerted when a cow is more or less active than the day before, which could indicate that the cow is ready for breeding or is feeling under the weather. Some farmers have even invested in robotics to help with everyday tasks such as milking cows or feeding calves.
In so many ways, dairy farmers do a better job today than they did in the past. They are proactive in protecting the environment through sustainable farming practices. They have a better understanding of what cows need to stay healthy, which has led to barns with increased ventilation, softer footing and larger stalls. These advances are due to the accumulated knowledge of generations.
I certainly don’t mean to diminish the way that my ancestors farmed. It’s just that today, we have the advantage of a few more decades of research and experience to inform our daily farming practices. Each farm makes its own decision as to the type and scope of the technology it adopts. Farming practices certainly are not one-size-fits-all.
There has been a lot of news coverage lately about low milk prices and the financial struggles that many dairy farmers are experiencing. The best way for you to help as a consumer is by purchasing dairy products. To find New York dairy products, look for a six-digit code starting with “36” on your dairy product container. Check out http://whereismymilkfrom.com/ to learn more.
Another way to support local farmers is by reaching out to them. Instead of googling your next farming question, ask a farmer! A great way to get in touch with local farmers is by following them on social media. A few farms right here in the Finger Lakes with excellent Facebook pages including EL-Vi Farms, Hemdale Farms & Greenhouses, Ivy Lakes Dairy, Willow Bend Farm, and Will-O-Crest Farm,
There are so many reasons to enjoy a dairy treat this month (and all year round). Whether you enjoy milk, yogurt, ice cream or other dairy products, those of us in the dairy community thank you for your support!