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Student cooperative operates university dairy herd

Staff Writer

Published: Friday, November 22, 2013

Updated: Friday, November 22, 2013 03:11

It’s 4:15 in the morning. The sun is sleeping along with the rest of the University of New Hampshire campus. But if you drive down Mast Road, the cows are already awake.

Dung might as well be dangling in front of your face for how putrid it smells. The shower sound you hear is not water, but actually cow excrement falling into a grate behind the animal’s large udder. Those big doe-eyes stare at you, anxiously waiting for relief.

UNH students Peter Tripp and Brittany Loon waited in the lobby before their 4:30 a.m. shift started, petting the white barn cat and talking about how all the other cows are mean to one cow, Cupcake. 

Loon commented on her motivational force for waking up while the sky still looked soaked in the night. 

“I can get up in the morning for cows,” Loon said. “Pretty much nothing else.” 

Some of the chains and gate doors are rusty in the barn. The cows do not know the distinction between a clean floor and one covered in their own waste. Nor do they seem to care. The “ladies” get rowdy if they think they should’ve been milked already, and then they moo in anger at their caretakers. But despite poking cows when they stop mid-walk and waking up at 4 a.m. at least once a week, the students love their jobs. 

“I know that I don’t want to do it forever,” student Hana Krauss said, “but I love it now.”

Cooperative Real Education in Agricultural Management, fondly known as CREAM, “is a student-run cooperative in which 25-30 UNH students, with the help of advisors, operate and manage a small business. This business is a 25- [to] 30-cow registered Holstein dairy herd,” according to the organization’s webpage.

“Yep, we are livin’ the dream,” Loon said as she donned her boots from the “boot room.” Her boots look as if they were dipped in water and then in sawdust, as sawdust covers the soles like five o’clock shadow.

When their classmate, Liz Clark, joined them, they divided up the chores.

Tripp commented with sarcasm how CREAMers say, “I don’t know, I’ll do whatever you don’t want to do” for chores.

“OK, I’ll just sit here and you do everything,” Loon said with a grin on her face.

In the end, Clark decided on milking and Loon took cleaning duty. Tripp offered to drive the dreaded “Data Ranger,” which is supposed to ration out the different types of feed for the cows. The Data Ranger looks like a miniature Zamboni with a snow blower shoot for the feed. It’s loud and slow, and the students complain about how it hardly works.

“I want to say [my favorite part is] feeding the cows, but that always annoys me 30 seconds in,” Tripp said. “… Your pants are the most delicious things they’ve ever tasted, and they won’t stop [nibbling] you.”

Loon chimed in with her own sentiments about taking care of cows, overlapping Tripp until they were talking at the same time.

“Feeding the cows, you think it’s going to be fun and adorable,” Loon said, “but they’re really annoying when you go to clean them out because they want to run past you and go frolic and be free. The newest babies, they’re always trying to suck on every article of clothing you own. Then your pants are wet, and it’s super glamorous.” 

If the feeding isn’t done on time, the cows get antsy.

“Peter is really quick at feeding but for those of us who are slower, like me, they’ll start to moo,” Loon said as she laid down new bedding for the cows. “Like if the feed isn’t out here when they come back from milking, they get a little vocal. The younger cows are a lot more vocal than the older cows. I’m not really sure why. Just ‘cause they’re teenagers; they like to be loud.” 

Even though the CREAMers joke about their duties, Loon doesn’t really mind some of the less glorious parts. 

“I think [it’s worth it],” Loon said. “I mean, the cows need to be taken care of, and I like doing it.”

In fact, though CREAMers have to shovel manure and push cows to get them to move, these UNH students are privileged. According to the CREAM webpage, “CREAM is one of only two programs in the country in which students actively manage a dairy herd.”

And the students find reasons to appreciate it, grit and all.

“My favorite was when there was a tissue over here and all the cows had to stop and smell the tissue,” Clark said, pointing to a spot on the ground. “And it messed up the whole routine.” 

None of the cows mind slipping their tongues into their nostrils several times a minute, and spectators can watch a trail of saliva — or snot — travel on the tongue from one place to another. Though some might find the slime trail disgusting or off-putting, the CREAM students laugh about it.

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Jerica, CREAM student '13-'14
Sat Nov 23 2013 15:39
Those "holes" do not simply serve as hand inserting devices for students.. these cows that are cannulated are vectors into discovering new information regarding essential amino acids/microbes/fungi/etc functioning in the rumen of cows, and I'll have you know that in some cases where there is a sick cow, we can actually share the rumen fluids from one cow to the other and help restore her health. Also these cows are given some medications to alleviate some of the pain they experience in their lifetime while being cannulated and helping to make way in the world of research. So come do some more of your own research, visit the researchers working at the DNRC, see the good these cows are doing, rather than disregard the whole thing as being a bad.
Sat Nov 23 2013 14:14
These "cannulas" are actually very important for the research programs that we have here at UNH and help us monitor and study the animals' digestion in order to improve dairy nutrition, and ultimately improve health and efficiency of dairy cattle all over the country, as well as provide educational opportunities in animal sciences. The cows are not harmed by this process and live perfectly normal, healthy lives.
Fri Nov 22 2013 13:25
You forgot to mention the giant holes UNH carves into the side of some of their cows. They have to live with these holes in their stomachs for their entire lives, just so students can stick their hands in and take food out that the cows are trying to digest...

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