Every April we celebrate Earth Day, a time to raise awareness of the need to protect our planet and all its natural resources for future generations. Dairy farmers do their part every day by using sustainable practices to produce wholesome, nutritious dairy foods.
I recently had the opportunity to take dietetic students from the University of Mississippi on a dairy farm tour at the Bearden Research Dairy Farm at Mississippi State University. During the tour, they were able to see first-hand how dairy farmers work to protect the earth every day.
Students were able to see how crops grown on the property were used to feed the cows and how water conservation is practiced. Although the cows are now milked by machines for efficiency, students were even given the opportunity to try milking a cow by hand (their most asked-for request).
Grain Conservation for Dairy Farmers
The students were amazed to know that the dairy farm is self-sustainable, growing all their own feed for the dairy cows. Corn is grown as the primary energy source for the cow’s diet and processed into corn silage which utilizes the entire corn plant including the stalks and leaves that cows can readily digest. Their diet also consists of byproducts of other industries. By eating byproducts that might normally go to landfills, cows do their part to eliminate food waste.
Water Conservation for Dairy Farmers
Students also witnessed how water is reused multiple times on a dairy farm: first to cool the milk after milking, then to mist and cool the cows off (a cool cow produces more milk), and finally as irrigation for cropland that will be harvested for feed.
Some students asked why there was a tank of dirty water left over from drinking and misting. The water tank opened and the floors in the barn were washed clean of the manure and other waste into a holding tank. This water is put into a “lake” that is processed and the manure is extracted. The remaining water and manure are then spread across the fields to act as a natural fertilizer for the crops. As one student said, “That is really organic!”
Fun Milk Fact!
The milk produced by the dairy cows at Bearden Research Farm is processed and served in Mississippi State cafeterias. It is also used to make cheese and ice cream sold on campus.