On Pennsylvania farm, cows live a luxury-oriented life

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COOPERSTOWN, Pa. (AP) — Rolling Spring Farm owners Charlie and Denise Bean are trying to milk their cows for all they're worth. In order to do so, they've taken a more pampered approach to dairy farming than the many generations before them.

The Beans last year built a new, state-of-the-art barn on their more than 130-acre farm in Canal Township that capitalizes on the concept of cow comfort because they believe that, much like people, a happy cow is a productive cow.

"(The new barn) has mostly improved cow comfort and cow health," Denise said. "And that was really our main purpose behind building it in the first place."

But the real benefit — aside from a more humane approach to raising cows, according to Charlie Bean — can be seen in sheer production numbers and milk quality.

Since the new barn was constructed, the cows have produced 10 or more extra gallons of milk a day, he said. While that may not seem like much moolah, a quick calculation over 365 days (after all, cows never quit making milk) reveals a potential for tens of thousands of extra dollars in revenue.

"Based on the improvements we've seen these cows produce up to an extra 10 gallons of good milk per day, and that alone will probably pay for the barn in the long run," Charlie said.

Using local ingenuity, a lot of field research (including a study of other farms in the state), donations from state farming supply companies and resources from the Pennsylvania Center for Dairy Excellence, the couple went about constructing a 100-cow barn on the hill just above their old milking barn.

"Dairy farmers have long been innovators when it comes to giving optimal animal care," said John Frey, executive director of the Pennsylvania Center for Dairy Excellence. "And what you're seeing here is an example of that."

The new barn includes a more-than-ample walking track for the numerous bovine guests, with open stalls that permit cows to move freely (or rest peacefully) throughout the space. The middle of the walking loop is covered in sand, providing extra cushion for cows looking to take a load off.

But cow comfort is about more than a little space to stretch out. The new facility also includes an open-ended wall equipped with about six large fans that help keep air constantly circulating, which in turn keeps cows cool, even in near 100-degree temperatures such as were experienced in the county last week. On Thursday, the temperature in the barn was a cool 68 degrees.

Walls on both sides of the barn are constructed of semi-transparent materials that allow the barn to remain lighted in the daytime without the need for costly electrical lighting, so cows never have to feel left in the dark.

And along the middle walking track, cows are graced with a device sure to be the envy of every person suffering from the occasional, unreachable itch — a motorized, rotating back-scratching brush.

"They take the very best care of their animals out here," observed Brenda DuMond, whose son Brady has two cows housed in the new facility.

The new barn was more than a bit overwhelming for Dallas Bean, the elder member of the Bean family.

"I've got mixed feelings about it," he said, admitting that it was nice, but pointing out that it was more than he ever had in his day. "It's great, but it's a lot different than the picture I have of the farm."

Bean has certainly seen a lot of changes to the more than 100-year-old family farm (started in 1893) in his 82 years.

"My dad and my grand-dad never had these things," he said. "Now we have more tractors than I can even count."

But new tractors are nothing compared to the changes that are taking place now. And the new innovations not only keep the family farm rolling, they increase the chances of the family farm staying in the family.

That's why the Center for Dairy Excellence prompted the open house Thursday at Rolling Spring.

"We thought it would be a great opportunity for other farmers to come in and see what they've done to position themselves for the next generation," Frey said. "We believe this represents the future of being able to be efficient and yet provide great animal care.

"I think what people don't realize is that dairy farming is not unlike any other business — you have to compete at a new level today compared to 20 years ago and this has positioned this family to be able to continue to do that."

Almost 100 visitors — from farmers and farming equipment suppliers to local legislators and curious onlookers — attended Thursday's open house at Rolling Spring Farm.

"We had made this improvement to our farm last year and the Center for Daily Excellence called and said they would like to have an open house to showcase some of the changes we made," Denise Bean said.

Bean said she and her family felt more than obligated to oblige. For starters, Bean said the center was integral in allowing the family to be in a position to make the improvements.

"They have funding available and resources available to do these kind of projects, whereas normal dairy farmers, such as us, don't always have the wherewithal to do these things," Bean said. "That's one of the things that makes the center so valuable."

Gayle Jones, who attended the event with three Dairy Princesses from Clarion and Venango counties, said it is also the responsibility of every person involved with dairy farming to promote the importance of the industry to both the region's physical and economic health.

"We definitely try to promote the industry," Jones said. "You always hear people bad-talking the dairy farms but we're out here to let people know that farmers are very conscientious and follow all the rules and regulations, and that dairy products are very essential for the body and for health. We just like to get the word out there about how important dairy is."

Part of the pledge is passing information on to younger generations that will someday have to take the reins.

"Our group is more focused on telling kids the importance of dairy," Jones said. "Kids just don't know about dairy farming."

"Some kids think milk comes from Walmart," added dairy princess Sandy Weiser.

But Charlie Bean knows milk comes from hard work and dedication to humane farming. And though it may be hard work, Charlie said it's his work, and nobody can take that away from him.

"With the economy the way it is and jobs being hard to find, I guess I can't really complain," he said. "This is one job that can't be outsourced."

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Online:

http://bit.ly/o5L3oX

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Information from: The Derrick, http://www.thederrick.com

 

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press.



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