Milking Miss Magnolia

Published 11:00 pm Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Amanda Griffin, a Mobile Dairy Classroom instructor, demonstrated how to milk a cow by hand and with automated machinery. A dairy cow gives about 10 gallons of milk a day.

School kids receive a lesson in dairy farming

Students in the Agriculture Academy at Goshen High School got an up close and personal look at the Alabama dairy industry when “Miss Magnolia” visited the campus.

The Southwest Dairy Farms Mobile Dairy Classroom is a traveling milking parlor that features a live a cow and an oral presentation.

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During two presentations at GHS, Amanda Griffin, a Mobile Dairy Classroom instructor, demonstrated how to milk a cow, described how milk goes from the farm to the consumer and answered questions from the students.

Miss Magnolia, a six-year-old, 1,400-pound Holstein, “assisted” Griffin with the demonstration.

“It takes nine and half months to calf and a cow can give milk for 10 months after the birth of a calf,” Griffin said. “Miss Magnolia produces about nine gallons of milk a day.”

Griffin said the breeds that produce most of the milk that is drunk in the United States are Holsteins, Jerseys, Brown Swiss, Guernsey, Ayrshire and Milking Shorthorn.

“There are only 55 dairies in Alabama so most of our milk comes from Texas and Kansas,” Griffin said. “The body heat of a dairy cow is 102 degrees so they get very hot so, during the summer, they produce less milk.”

Griffin said the large dairies have fans and misters to keep the temperature down and the cows cooler so they will produce more milk.

A dairy cow eats about 100 pounds of feed a day and drinks about 50 gallons of water a day.

“Dairy cattle are not judged by their muscle development like beef cattle,” Griffin said but are judged for characteristics that would help them produce the best possible milk. “You might be able to see a dairy cow’s hip bones but it’s the utter capacity that’s important.”

Dairy farmers are paid by the pound and 8.6 pounds equals one gallon of milk and it takes 12 pounds of whole milk to make one gallon of ice cream.

Griffin said that, in today’s market, a dairy farmer would have to have at least 300 cows to break even.

She demonstrated the old-fashioned way of milking a cow and pointed out some of the downsides of the slow process of hand milking.

“At some point, the milk bucket is going to get knocked over and you’re going to lose your milk and there’s always the possibility of getting kicked by the cow,” she said. “And, the cow has to be milked two to three times a day. That’s a lot of hand milking.”

With the automated milking machines, Griffin said 72 cows can be milked in seven minutes.

“That’s much faster and it’s almost more comfortable for the cows,” she said. “In some of the larger dairies, the cows are put on a carousel and they’ll almost fight to get on. They really like the carousel.”

Griffin said a milk cow has about a 10-year life and, after that, they are ready for the meat market.

“They lose their jobs at Chick-fil-A and go to work at McDonald’s,” she said, with a smile.

The Mobile Dairy Classroom is a division of the Southwest Dairy Museum, Inc., a non-profit, educational program funded by dairymen across the Southwest.

During 2011, 14 Mobile Dairy Classrooms made presentations to more than 875,000 people at fairs, festivals, livestock shows and in school settings.