As commencements across the state are cancelled, students aren’t the only ones graduating – cows are too.
This weekend 600-700 dairy cows ‘graduated’ to different pens at El-Vi Farms in Newark. This happens every four weeks – one class comes, and another goes.
This is a part of their regimented process to raise dairy cows until they reach maturity to start milking.
On Sunday, the New York Animal Agricultural Coalition announced that the eighth-annual Dairy Cow Birthing Center at the New York State Fair in Syracuse would be cancelled due to looming concerns surrounding the coronavirus pandemic.
At the same time, however, El-Vi Farms is recovering from the crippling impacts of COVID-19 upon the dairy industry.
For Kim Skellie, a farm manager on-site and member of the Board of Directors for New York Farm Bureau, milking simply cannot stop – even amid a global pandemic.
While many businesses were forced to shut their operations down, the dairy farm continued on throughout the last several months, claiming that someone still needs to milk them on a daily basis.
It’s a demanding nonstop job, around the clock from dusk to dawn and the cows are even trained to enter the stalls at the milking parlor on their own.
As the drawn-out days of self-quarantining are finally starting to drift away, time has never slowed down on their dairy farm where some 3,800 dairy cows are spread across multiple properties; and technology keeps every moment on track.
With mechanical precision, the entire farm must operate like well-fashioned clockwork or else chaos will ensue.
Each day, dairy cows are milked three times, every eight-hours. For six to seven minutes, every cow produces around three gallons during each milking session while being hooked up in the parlor.
But day-to-day operations call for more than just milking, new baby calves are being born almost every day – four just this last Sunday morning alone as a part of their year-round breeding through artificial insemination.
Wrapped around the ankles of each cow, an embedded bracelet reports every day the total yield of milk produced while also checking their overall health, which is recorded based on measured readings and represented as a line graph over a period of time.
Spikes in the line graph indicate can indicate positive or negative trends depending on which variable is being reviewed: milk production, health, or fertility.
The programming also catalogs pregnancies, births, abortions and even when cows got their last hoof shaving, which gets scheduled every five-months for appointments on Wednesdays.
If a cow needs a medical checkup, the automatic system herds out the tagged cow, separating them from the rest of their pen mates for farmworkers to see rather than sending employees to search for the spotted cow among a sea of similarly looking others.
All things considered, Skellie and his staff have kept their composure throughout the entire situation, proving that cooler heads can prevail even under unprecedented circumstances.
While the pandemic has certainly lowered the demand for dairy products, the day-to-day routines have remained much the same.
Although New York State is slowly re-acclimating in phases, life on the farm has never fully come to a halt – but that does not mean precautions aren’t still be taken seriously now.
Skellie shared that none of their staff have contracted the illness since the start of pandemic and he hopes to keep their perfect record intact by continuing to enforce strict social distancing and health precautions across the entire farm among all staff personnel.
The solitary nature of dairy farming should slow down any possible spreading of the virus – if the pathogen was present, according to Skellie.
Although the pandemic has been financially and fatally costly it has its own perks for employees like Gabby Taylor a junior in high school and daughter of Mayor Jonathan Taylor who also works on the farm full-time.
Since in-person schooling has been cancelled, she has been dedicating extra time in the fields around the farm.
Skellie previously told FingerLakes1.com on the Daily Debrief podcast that milk prices were set to plummet up to $5 per gallon from May until August, but after a few weeks of price fluctuations due to state and federal efforts to buyback milk it seems that the projected future prices are starting to stabilize.
Listen to the Daily Debrief with Kim Skellie from El-Vi Farms below:
More photos from Reporter Gabriel Pietrorazio: