It was a hot summer day at Valley View Dairy with temperatures breaking the century mark. Upon arriving at the dairy, I met with owner Joe Bogle and together we entered the milk barn. I was painfully ill-prepared for what I was about to experience. “This is where we do all our milking,” Bogle began.
I heard him say this, but at the same time, I was using every ounce of my bodily reflexes in an attempt to keep from vomiting and to not let on to the fact that I was on the verge. The smell of hot milk and cow manure was so pungent, it hit the back of my throat and immediately triggered my gag reflexes.
My eyes began to water and my body began to heave, so I positioned myself just out of Bogle’s line of sight until I could pull myself together. It wasn’t long before my olfactory senses became fatigued though and the severity of the smell lessened.
Once I got past the smell, I began to marvel at the sheer magnitude of the operation. Inside the room, 50 dairy cows stood, hooked to fancy contraptions that were extracting milk from each one. In a matter of about four minutes, the cows had produced some 40 pounds of milk each. It was their second milking that day.
As I watched a new batch of cows enter the milk room, I noticed several men walking along, applying what I later learned was iodine to each teat of the cows’ udders. The iodine, Bogle explained, is used to sterilize the teats and prevent disease since the cows lay around in the dirt and manure all day.
After the iodine is applied, the milking machine is hooked up to each cow and the extraction process begins. A few minutes later, the milking is done and another substance, a barrier dip, is applied to the teats.
“The barrier dip coats them (the teats) before they go back out, especially after it rains,” Bogle noted. “It keeps them from getting infection and mastitis.” He explained that the cows are more prone to infection after summer rains, when the conditions are ripe for bacteria growth. In addition, the cows lay around in mud all day, which later dries on and around the udders, causing problems like mastitis.
After the milk is gathered from the approximately 2,350 cows at the Valley View Dairy each day, it flows through a series of pipes into a room where it is cooled to temperatures below 40 degrees Fahrenheit. There, the raw milk is stored in large vats until a truck comes to haul it to the Leprino Foods cheese plant in nearby Roswell where it is processed.
The entire process is dirty and loud and smelly but vitally important to our local economy and way of life here.
But That’s Not All
More goes on at the Valley View Dairy than milking, though. Through a process called artificial insemination, the dairy farmers breed cows on a daily basis. That, too, is a dirty job! “There’s never a day that we don’t have a calf born,” Bogle shared. “There are between 10 and 20 calves born each day here. We keep the heifers and sell the bulls.” Bogle and his crew will raise the heifers and then begin breeding them once they reach 13 months of age. Like humans, a cow’s gestation period is nine months.
Once the cows reach the right age and are bred, the lactation process begins and will last for approximately 220 days. On average, Bogle said most dairy cows will last about three lactations, with some going as long as seven or eight lactations.
As is the case with most lactating animals, certain factors will affect the production of milk, such as the amount of food they consume, their stage in the breeding process and even the weather. Pregnant cows, for instance will produce less milk and cows that just gave birth will produce greater volumes. And the scorching New Mexico summers mean the cows tend to eat less, which in turn causes them to produce less milk. The stress of the heat on the cows also affects production.
By the Books
With advances in technology, over the years milk production has become safer and more efficient. Each dairy cow has an ear tag with a number on it, and thanks to a computer program, Bogle said he can access each cow’s life history with the click of a mouse. The program allows farmers to keep track of important factors, such as which cows have suffered from mastitis, how many calves they bore and how many lactations they have experienced.
One thing Bogle claimed he prides himself on is the quality of milk his dairy produces. For the past six months, Somatic Cell Counts at the dairy have been below 100,000. The Somatic Cell Count is a main indicator of milk quality and is quantified by the number of cells per milliliter of milk. “It’s hard to get there, but these guys work hard to prep and iodize the cows to make sure those numbers stay low,” Bogle explained.
With more than 20 people on the payroll, it’s a group effort to ensure the milk produced at Valley View Dairy is high quality and safe for consumption.
The stench of hot milk and cow manure seemed to cling to my olfactory senses long after I left the dairy, but I also left with a newfound appreciation for the work that goes into ensuring I can get the ice cold milk, the ample amounts of cheese and the delicious ice cream I so thoroughly enjoy!