Dairy Calf

Dismantling the Myths about Dairy Farms

Recently, a group of dietetic interns from Northern Illinois University were given the opportunity to tour Mitchell Dairy Farm to see the first step in the food production process for themselves. They learned about the science behind dairy farming and asked their own questions about how a farmer’s choices affect food safety. Here is what they learned:

In our recent trip to Mitchell’s Dairy Farm, many of the trending myths that exist were put to rest as we spoke with John about the care they take with their cows. This included everything from antibiotics to special tracking technology.

I think that most people don’t realize how advanced farm technology is nowadays. Sure, we’ve seen self-driving tractors, but did you know that technology can make life easier for dairy farmers as well? For instance, Mitchell Farms uses a sensor, the CowManager sensor, which allows farmers to track and monitor any size of herd in any situation. Cows wear an ear sensor that fits around an RFID tag. This system monitors the cows’ fertility, health, nutrition, and location. This is all done in real time and can be viewed on a smartphone or other compatible device. We were able to see this in action when John was asked a question about a specific cow. He pulled up the app on his phone and was able to answer instantly! It is easy to see how this sensor can make farmers’ lives much easier.

I found it most interesting how the system monitors a cow’s nutrition. CowManager provides an accurate measurement of the numbers of minutes each cow spends eating and ruminating. Therefore, the farmer will be able to know how to ration his herd. Additionally, this information will provide early insight to any potential health issues if the cow is eating less than normal. This feature also informs the farmer when the cow’s peak lactation occurs and can monitor the recovery of sick cows. Along with behaviors, the device can track ear temperature!

Furthermore, the system can easily locate the cows, which can save the farmers time. The cow locator is easy to install with no additional beacons or calibrations, which must be a relief for the farmers.

Not only do the farmers take careful measures to monitor and track various aspects of the cow’s health, but we learned how much care is taken to ensure that the cow’s nutritional needs are met. There are specific feeds that are provided including oats and barley and all the essential amino acids along with vitamins and minerals to nourish the cows. In addition, Mitchell’s Farm does not use rBST. rBSTs have been a hot button topic because they are a synthetic growth hormone used to increase a cow’s milk production. We learned that this practice is actually no longer accepted in Illinois as most dairy processors will not accept milk if the cow was injected by rBST (recombinant bovine somatotropinrecombinant bovine somatotropin).

I was also surprised at how they take care of the cows during the winter months. In addition to pulling down the sides of the barn, they check all cows and calves thoroughly for sickness. Signs they look for are sluggish cows or heads and ears hanging down. They also pay close attention to their walking and feet to make sure no cow has hurt herself on the hard ground or ice. Overall, I think our group of dietetic interns were amazed at the technology used and extra care provided for the cows at Mitchell’s Dairy farm.

Ashley Kyle, Natasha Kirkbride

NIU Dietetic Interns