Yesterday we visited an organic dairy farm. Spring Creek Farm, about a two- hour drive from our location near State College, PA, had a Pasture Walk for visitors to come check out their operation. We arrived at 6:30 p.m., a half an hour after the start of the tour. At the end of the farm’s long driveway the logo for Horizon Dairy greeted us. I’m familiar with the logo from seeing it at the grocery store. Spring Creek Farm’s milk is processed with other milk from organic dairies and sold as organic milk, cheese, and yogurt.
Since we arrived a little late, we had to catch up with the rest of the group. We strolled back down the long gravel driveway and then shimmied under the barbwire fence and headed across the cow’s pasture. As we came traipsing over the hill, the cows came into view. They soon lined up in the adjacent grass paddock to see what was going on. The tractor with the tour group then arrived on the nearby road. About 40 or so people, around half of them Amish or Mennonite sat on the bales of hay inside the tractor.
The farmer, Forrest Stricker, stopped the tractor and hopped out to explain some things about his operation. He said the cows produce milk for ten months and then are dry for two. As he spoke, another tractor came down the hill, unrolling bales of hay for the cows to munch on. In addition to grazing on the grass, the farm supplements the cows’ diet with extra hay. The cows are artificially inseminated in May or June but they also keep a bull in the group as a back up. For the cows to produce milk, every season they repeat the cycle of getting pregnant, having a calf, and then producing milk. This cycle is called a lactation. Organic dairy farms are able to keep their cows for up to eight years, or lactations, whereas conventional dairy farms only use their cows for a couple.
As the cows munched away on the hay, we headed off up the hill to see another part of the farm. (Since the tractor was full of people, we hopped on the back of a little cart. I found out from the two young boys sitting with us that we had only missed seeing the calves during the first part of the tour). We zipped up another gravel roadway as the sun began to melt into shades of orange and pink behind the green hills. Arriving a few minutes later at another pasture area, the farmer explained about the alfalfa growing there. At first, I had no idea why he was talking about alfalfa. All I knew of it was that it was the name of one of the Little Rascals. But apparently the cows also graze on pastures of alfalfa, in addition to the grass. He spoke very technically about the about of nutrients in the alfalfa and how this translates to the cows. A few Amish farmers stood down in the low growing green looking on very intently during his explanation.
After a while we all climbed back up into our respective modes of transportation and drove down to the barn. Inside they had set up a small reception with Horizon products. We snacked on string cheese and yogurt, and drank milk from little boxes like I remember drinking juice from. The milk came in chocolate and strawberry flavors in addition to regular. I enjoyed my strawberry milk and cheese combo and tried to eavesdrop on the conversation of the Amish men sitting on a nearby bale of hale (they talked mostly about farming techniques and animals). Soon we headed out away from the light of the barn and came under the light from the blanket of stars.
As we drove away from the farm we passed another dairy operation. The light from inside that barn illuminated cows standing up inside corrals. Leslie mentioned that those cows, part of a conventional dairy, would never go outside. They are fed grains inside. They looked trapped. It made me sad to see them and think of their lives versus the Stricker’s cows that spend their days roaming about the hills. Seeing those cows gave me another reason for paying a little extra for organic dairy products like Horizon’s.