Good food and comfortable sleep can work wonders for many — including the dairy cows at SUNY Cobleskill.
Students and staff care for nearly 350 cows on the farm at the agriculture and technology college in Schoharie County.
One hundred and sixty two of them provide milk that goes to the Dairylea Cooperative, which bestowed a special gold certificate award on the herd for producing high-quality milk, and a lot of it, for 12 months straight.
The achievement reflects success in several changes aimed at comfort and a strict attention to diet, College Farm Coordinator Thomas Poltynski said.
Over the past three years, the college remodeled its dairy cow stalls and made adjustments to features to better accommodate the cows.
Cows make more milk when they are lying down because blood isn’t going to their legs to hold them up.
“You want the cow to lay down. When the cow lays down she’s actually producing more blood to her udder. Fifty percent more,” Poltynski said.
The cows will lay down more if they have sufficiently cozy bedding, so students and staff change the sawdust used for the task five times weekly.
Students and staff don’t guess at how comfortable it is either — they feel it for themselves with a “knee test,” he said.
“We kneel down ourself from a standing position to kneeling. If that hurts our knees, there’s not enough bedding,” Poltynski said. Rubber mats were added in all areas the cows walk and large fans blowing at 5 to 7 mph keep the fly population down while keeping the cows cool, he said.
The college dairy farm’s relationship with dairy nutritionist Dan Button of Button Nutrition plays a critical role in making sure the cows eat right.
Their daily diet includes hay, haylage, corn silage and Button’s custom grain mix, all of which is grown on 750 acres of land the college owns or rents.
Sufficient high-quality food led to an average production of 30,480 pounds of milk per cow each year.
“We’re pretty proud of that,” Poltynski said.
Students, he said, are another critical element in the cows’ success. They handle 99 percent of the work, which includes staying over at the college during breaks and on holidays.
Syracuse-based Dairylea Cooperative is a marketing and service organization with about 1,200 member farms throughout the Northeast.
“For nearly 20 years, Dairylea has recognized members whose herds produce outstanding raw milk,” Dairylea spokeswoman Jennifer Huson said in an e-mail.
“The production of top-quality milk is a result of solid management and dedication. Our quality award winners consistently show strengths in both areas and we are pleased to have them among our membership,” she said.