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Sunday, October 17, 2021

Happy cows come from UC Davis

Ever wonder where that cheddar cheese on your sandwich came from? If you’re eating Hilmar Cheese, it might have come from a UC Davis cow.

The Dairy Teaching and Research Facility, located near the Tercero Residence Halls, takes care of 240 cows. However, only 100 of the cows are used for milking, making the on-campus dairy farm relatively small.

Only three universities in California have a dairy farm: California Polytechnic University at San Luis Obispo, Fresno State University and UC Davis. Doug Gisi, the dairy farm facility manager, said there is no way a university would have a large-scale dairy facility.

“Our mission is not to make money, it’s for research,” Gisi said.

Much of the research done on campus relates to a growth hormone called Recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone (rBGH or rBST). Workers inject the on-campus cows with the hormone for both research purposes and weight control. Gisi said the milk has been proven safe for human consumption and the hormone helps cows use nutrients for milk, instead of becoming overweight.

“If you’re using certain drugs [on the cows], it doesn’t mean the drugs are in the milk. It is tested negative at parts per million,” Gisi said.

Gisi also wants to ensure the organic milk market does not fool people. He said a big misconception he faces in his line of work is people’s belief that organic means healthier cows.

“Organic just means they can’t use the latest healthcare. If a cow gets sick, you can’t treat them with certain drugs [and] you won’t get the highest quality milk,” he said.

Gisi also said there are often tradeoffs between human food quality, cow welfare and the environment.

“Environmentally, it’s better for cows to be on cement, but they aren’t made for cement. In the summer, when there’s no rain, the grass is much better for their feet,” Gisi said.

UC Davis cows, winning the highest milk quality award at the Hilmar Cheese Company, receive the best care, Gisi said. A full-grown cow eats 60 to 65 pounds of dry feed consisting of a wide variety of byproducts such as almond holes, cottonseeds, beef pulp and alfalfa.

“The beauty of cows is they can take unused stuff going to the dump and turn it into human food,” he said.

Hilmar Cheese Company also uses milk from over 260 other dairies across the country and sells their product for use in food service, retail and in restaurants.

Vania Leonardes, student resident and junior animal science major, lives and works at the dairy farm. She covers the 3:30 a.m. shift, necessary because cows have to be milked 12 hours apart. Although her job requires hard work, she said it provides her with learning opportunities that gives her an advantage in animal science classes covering a topic on cows.

“It’s difficult multitasking between school and work. It’s not easy waking up for early shifts and trying to get back to sleep,” Leonardes said.

She also refuted a common myth about cow milking.

“Cows have to have their first calf to make milk. It just doesn’t come out automatically,” Leonardes said.

Gisi said hand milking is not necessary as the bio-secure facility has a much safer milking machine that helps to prevent mastitis, a bacterial infection in the utter.

“The milking machine is sanitized and run by a computer. It’s perfect,” Gisi said.

Leonardes, while feeding milk-medicine mixture to a calf, said she enjoys when people visit and pet the adult cows, but not the calves. Visitors might be introducing new pathogens and bacteria into the calves, affecting their immune system – many of the calves get a white diarrhea called scours. So, Leonardes suggested an alternative for those wishing to pet the calves.

“Instead, people should take internships in calf feeding which teaches people how to feed and make medicine for them,” she said.

UC Davis students interested in the local dairy farm can take ANS 49C: Animal Practices – Dairy, taught by Doug Gisi, or can apply for internships at the facility.

GRACE BENEFIELD can be reached at features@theaggie.org.

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