AMES - Adults and children of all ages had the opportunity on June 8 to not only learn, but see firsthand that their milk really comes from dairy animals and not just the grocery store.
An open house at the Iowa State University dairy farm was held to help celebrate June Dairy Month.
The ISU dairy farm opened its doors at 6 a.m. The open house included tours, free dairy samples and a discovery center for children.
-Messenger photo by Kriss Nelson
Justin Happe, 2 1/2, from Nevada, takes some time during the ISU Dairy Farm open house to watch cows being milked.
The tour began in the milking center; a building featuring a state-of-the-art classroom and laboratory, and a full view of the milking parlor allowed attendees to watch cows being milked.
While there visitors enjoyed samples of milk, cheese, yogurt and ice cream.
After viewing the parlor, the tour moved into the bulk tank holding area where milk is cooled quickly, from 101 degrees to 38 to 40 degrees, with the use of cool water. The water is used to cool the milk efficiently and quickly, and then becomes warm is directed to the cows to drink.
The pipe lines are cleaned every four hours, and the milk is collected every other day.
Howard Tyler, professor of animal science at Iowa State University, led a tour group through the outside facilities of the farm, to view where the 1,100 animals at the facility are kept.
Barns on the tour included the breeding barn; the transition barn where pregnant heifers are placed within two months before calving; and the nursery barn, where newborn calves, separated instantly from their mothers and bottle fed until they can be moved on to the heifer barn.
The heifer barn is where 2-month-old calves are brought in, Tyler said, as soon as they are weaned off milk. The heifer barns keep the calves together in groups from 2 to 8 months of age; 9 to 15 months and then 16 to 22 months.
In the lactation barn, Tyler said, cattle are separated by age and the stage of lactation. Lactating cattle, he said, always have feed available and will typically eat five hours a day. The cattle will lie down approximately 14 hours a day.
"If they aren't lying down, then we want them eating and drinking," said Tyler.
This barn, he said, is kept lit for 16 hours each day to keep cattle eating and drinking more.
"Our big focus is to keep the animals happy, healthy and comfortable," Tyler said.
The pens are cleaned during milking, so the cows return to fresh water and food.
For additional fun and learning, the open house included a discovery center for children.
Here they could participate in a variety of activities including coloring, petting a calf, and several other activities sponsored by the Iowa Corn Growers Association, Iowa Pork Producers Association, Farm Bureau, Midwest Dairy Association and the Iowa Soybean Association.
At the ISA booth, children had the chance to make "soy boy" necklaces. This included putting a soybean wrapped in a moist cotton ball then in a small baggie and making a necklace of yarn. Children were to keep an eye on their necklace to see if it would sprout within a few days.
One of the favorite exhibits for the children was a chance to pet a calf.
Brittany Shonka, a recent ISU dairy science graduate, with plans to attend ISU to earn her master's degree in animal breeding and genetics, said she enjoyed her day helping the children with petting calves and answering their questions.
"I love it how people can see the process," Shonka said. "It's the type of education we need more of."
Other celebration sponsors included Midwest Dairy Association, Iowa State Dairy Association, Western Iowa Dairy Alliance, Hy-Vee of Ames, and Roberts, Swiss Valley Farms and Land O'Lakes dairy processors.
The ISU dairy farm opened in 2007 and sits on 887 acres.
According to information provided by ISU, in 2012, Iowa had 1,820 dairy farms, including 219 goat farms and 204,000 milk cows, which produce 4.5 billion pounds of milk and 240 million pounds of cheese annually. Iowa ranks fourth in ice cream production, sixth in cottage cheese production, seventh in the number of dairy herds and eighth in total dairy products processed in the U.S.
The dairy industry accounts for more than 22,000 jobs and contributes more than $4.9 billion annual to Iowa's economy. Each cow in the state generates more than $23,000 for local communities.