Monday, June 7, 2010
Lancaster Pennsylvania: Spring Hill Dairy, Shirley and Dave Garber.
Lancaster was our destination after New York, a region rich with farms and Mennonites and Amish and Mennonite/Amish farmers. It is also home to my best friend from college, Miss Monica Neufeld (Spory). I could write a whole blog on her supreme greatness, the cuteness of her baby daughter, and her husband Chad's humor and hospitality. We were welcomed into the Neufeld palace and I stayed up way later than I can function at full capacity just to hang out with my old friend. Between ice cream and coffee and walks and delicious home-cooked dinners we caught up on the past 2 years and I still can't believe how blessed I am to be friends with people of such a high caliber. So...
Monica connected us to a really interesting and unique operation- it was a dairy farm run by computers and robotic machinery (with help from the Garber family). Spring Lawn Farm is Dave and Shirley Garber's place right outside of Lancaster City. The dairy has been in Dave's family for 6 generations, and is run by Dave, his brother, and his nephew. They use their unique farm as an educational tool in the community; there are charts to look at, a powerpoint (we didn't view that presentation as we had the real live tour), and computer screens hooked up to the milking machine that showed which cow was being milked, how often that cow is milked per day and how much milk the cow gives.
The way this farm worked is that the milking cows are kept in a barn where an automatic tiny plow constantly moves up and down the aisles where the cows' manure, keeping things really clean. These cows appear to have a lot of creature comforts that I have not yet seen in a barn. For example, if you've ever been to an automatic car wash you have seen those muppety looking things at the end that buff your car; they look like strips of foam on a whirling stick, one on each side of the car. The cows at Spring Lawn have a similar looking toy, it hangs from a pole in the aisle, and it sits idle until a cow comes into contact with it- then it's off spinning it's heart out providing the cow with a back/shoulder/face/behind scratcher and loads of entertainment.
Each cow decides when it's time for them to be milked, of their own volition. They line up at the milking parlor. A gate opens and ushers them in one at a time and then closes behind them. They must pass through this milking area to find their way to their food. From where we were standing we were eye level with the cow's udder, and we watched an infrared laser focus on each teat one at a time, then in one or maybe two tries a teat shaped tube would vacuum onto each teat and disinfect it. Then that scenario would repeat, but this time the tube would milk the cow, and the numbers on the computer screen would start changing to reflect the cow's stats, via an electronic collar that each one wears. If a cow doesn't show up for awhile to be milked Dave can see that via the computer, and his dad will find that cow in the barn and see what the trouble is. If the system fails for some reason, the computer will call Dave's phone to tell him there is a problem. It is a very systematic way to run a dairy.
One concern that the the Garbers have is the huge cost of mechanizing and computerizing their dairy. The price of milk fluctuates wildly in the U.S. and is set monthly by the federal government based on supply and demand. Since 2002 it seems like there have been extreme valleys and peaks in milk prices, and currently the price of milk is pretty low for dairy farmers. Dave and Shirley have no control over how much they can sell their milk for, and the threat of losing their multi generational farm is a constantly looming cloud on the horizon.
Despite worries and concerns that seem inherent to farming, the Garbers were the happy kind of people you just want to surround yourself with. As we walked down to where the pregnant cows are kept we got to see a cow just minutes old! Dave scrubbed it with hay and noted with some disappointment that it was a bull, but even so, what an event to witness.
Posted by Trav Williams at 11:35 AM