It's Moo-ve in Day for UVM's Teaching Herd
- By Jeffrey R. Wakefield
It was a stately procession – a single-file line of cows, each with two human handlers, ambling slowly from the University of Vermont's old teaching barn to their new home, a spacious new instructional barn, nine months in the making, that officially opened at the university’s Miller Research Farm on Spear Street two weeks ago.
Until it wasn’t.
The culprit was Sweet Pea, who stopped dead at the entrance to the new barn in apparent shock at the upscale digs, causing Prestige just behind her to veer off course and her humans, momentarily flummoxed, to have to nervously coax, flatter and, finally, push her back in line and into the building.
“Cows are creatures of habit,” said Norm Purdie, faculty adviser to UVM's student-run Cooperative for Real Education in Agricultural Management, or CREAM, program and a member of the Animal and Veterinary Sciences Department faculty. “If you change their environment, they get upset. We’re changing their environment for the better, but it’s still a big change for them. They’ll be upset for the first couple days and even for the first week. Then they’ll settle in.”
Moving the 33 cows in the teaching herd from their old home to their new one was so well orchestrated, Purdie said, it was “almost a military operation.”
His troops consisted of the 16 students in the CREAM program, whose home base is the teaching barn, along five CREAM alumni living in the area.
Cows were moved in groups of six from one barn to the other, a distance of about 100 yards. After entering the new barn, they were given a tour of the facility, including of the high-tech new milking parlor – judging from their balkiness, they did not find it impressive – before being led to their roomy individual stalls, with plush rubber matting underfoot. By 10:30, an hour after it started, the operation was complete.
“It’s going to take a while for them to get used to it,” said Audrey Minkin, a senior animal and veterinary sciences and pre-vet major and CREAM member. “But I think things like the feed and the sun will help.”
Once they get acclimated, they won’t look back.
In addition to the spongy floor in their stalls, the new barn also boasts an intelligent heating and cooling system that will automatically open or close windows and start or stop fans to keep temperatures at between 40 and 60 degrees, a bovine comfort zone that leads to better eating, higher milk yields, increased fertility and a decreased risk of mastitis.
The new barn will be good for student learning, too, acquainting them, for one thing, with dairy farming’s high-tech future. Each milking machine in the milking parlor is connected to a scanner and computer that will recognize the cow being milked and display for students its entire milking and health history.
The CREAM program, which puts students in charge of managing every aspect of a dairy operation, from caring for cows to managing finances, is already a much-admired program nationally, with a 95 percent-plus acceptance rate of its graduates to vet school.
The new barn will do even more for the program.
"It will help them better experience modern, real-world situations," said Purdie, "and allow for more decision-making moments, something that sets UVM CREAM head and shoulders above any comparable program."
The teaching barn will also be used by the roughly 250 animal and veterinary sciences majors in UVM's College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.
In their own way, the cows were doing what they could to make the new environment more homey. Not long into the move, the floor of the squeaky clean new barn was decidely less spotless.