Dirty Jobs

Season 3 Episode 27

Dairy Cow Midwife

Aired Sunday 10:00 PM Apr 28, 2008 on Discovery Channel

Episode Recap

Today Mike spends the day at the Fair Oaks Dairy in Indiana. Here they have 32,000 cattle and will milk 3,000 of them today. We meet Tom who is the farm's vet. He explains that normally after rounding up the cows for milking, they will clean the sand-filled beds. It doesn't appear that Mike has to clean up too much of the poo in the beds today. He just scrapes a bit of manure off the edge as they walk down the poo-filled aisle behind the cows.

Mike comments that it's a shame that the cows can't milk themselves. Tom says that some actually can do it just by reaching around. However, it doesn't happen very often. Mike then comments on the constant drool. Tom explains that the cows can lick their own nose. Their tongue goes up and cleans out the nostrils.

They herd the cows to the milking parlor where one by one they will step onto a contraption that looks like a merry go round. The merry go round is actually called a wheel. There are four wheels in the dairy and each carries 72 cows. Every seven seconds a new cow gets on and it takes nine minutes for the cow to be milked. The machine has a flow meter on each cow. It knows when the cows are done and will unattach itself. It also gives a digital readout of how much milk an individual cow is producing while on the wheel. When they're through milking, the cows just back off and leave.

Once a cow produces a calf she can produce milk. Each cow provides an average of eight gallons of milk daily. 290,000 gallons a day are collected at the farm. The milk is then sent to their dairy for bottling, cheese making or ice cream making.

Before attaching the unit, they first check the milk to make sure that it's clean. They also want to make sure that there's no mastitis which is an infection in the udder. They will not use any abnormal looking milk. They clean off any dirt from the udders then pinch the teats to stimulate them. They spray the milk straight down onto the deck. They're looking for healthy white milk with no chunks. They have to work quickly because they only have seven seconds per cow due to the rotation of the wheel.

Tom picks up a milking unit, presses the button to turn the vacuum on and puts it on the four teats. Mike is going to try, but the first cow has only three teats so Tom shows him how with this cow. Mike gets to do the next cow and is scared of getting kicked. He just can't attach the unit. Once he finally gets it on, Tom tells him that it's on sideways.

It's considered a fun activity for the cows to be milked on the wheel, almost like a day at the spa. They get to hang out with each other and socialize on the merry go round. Every couple months they use a blow touch to remove fine hairs from the udders. They want to remove the hair because it can hold dirt and manure which can cause bacteria and/or get dirt in the milk. It's a quick pain-free way to keep dirt out of the milk. The cows don't feel anything. They let Mike run the blow torch. Of course he has to turn the torch on Barsky. Mike also worries about an open flame near cow flatulence.

We then meet Mark who shows Mike the half million gallon anaerobic digesters. There are four of them on the farm. These look like huge silos except they're filled with two million gallons of poo instead of grain. One of the digesters has a leak. It was so cold recently (-30 degrees) that the pressure relief froze so gas wasn't allowed to escape from the top of the tank. This caused an overflow of poo to come down the outer sides of the tank. They will use a power washer to clean it. Mark operates the boom lift and they work from the top down. Mike gets to hose down the poo from fifteen feet up in the air. It doesn't help that the water is cold and the temperature is only 15 degrees today. He loses feeling in his hands.

The digesters create a home for the bacteria in the poo which generate methane gas. This gas is then used for electricity to power the farm and visitor's center. In less than a year the farm will be completely powered by poo. 1600 tons of manure is produced daily. It is flushed into huge manure pits where all the solids are separated from the liquids. After the digesters convert the poo to methane gas, the gas then powers the engines that generate electricity which powers the farm. Solids left over from the digesters are used to fertilize the crops that will feed the cows.

We then meet Joe who has thousands of gallons of bull semen that he brought with him from California. Mike calls him a matchmaker. All of his bulls are analyzed and graded. Cows are also analyzed and graded which is what Joe is doing right now. He tries to explain the process to Mike. These cows will be given semen with traits they may lack in order to create optimum offspring. He studies the individual traits of each cow and gives them semen from bulls with the opposite traits. It's a very complicated grading system, but we do learn that the "fancy" grade of semen is given to ugly cows. Mike seemed pretty bored with the process until he learned about the ugly cows.

Tony is breeding the cows. He has a truck full of semen. It is kept at 300 degrees below zero in a cryogenic container. He defrosts the semen for 30-45 seconds. It is kept in small containers that look a lot like little coffee stirrers. They put the semen into the inseminating wand. Tony inseminates an average of fifteen cows per day and he's been doing this job for eighteen years. Mike thinks it's funny that Tony puts the inseminating wands in his pants to keep them warm.

To inseminate the cows, they glove up and stick one arm into the rectum. This is done so they can feel through the wall of the rectum that the wand is inserted properly into the vagina. The wand is entered below the rectum through the cervix. Mike gloves up, lifts the tail and inserts his arm into the rectum. He has trouble getting his arm in, plus the cow is trying to poo at the same time. He then inserts the wand into the cervix and injects the semen. In 35 days they'll know if the cow is pregnant. They write the date on the side of the cow.

Next comes the birthing process. Mike gets to see a calf that is half an hour old. The calf is yellow because she pooed on herself while still inside the womb, but she'll be fine. We meet Denise who is the midwife on the farm. She handles the deliveries and feeds the calves. All the cows here in this area of the farm are in different stages of labor. Two hooves is the normal presentation as the calf comes out of the mother. They are little bit crooked so the shoulders don't get jammed up. Once the hooves come out, it takes a couple hours for the birth to occur. Cows will eat their own placenta after the cows are born. They figure that this is an instinct so predators don't smell the placenta and come after their babies. One calf has a tongue coming out along with the hooves. This actually is normal and often the vets will touch it to see if the calf is still alive inside.

One cow they watch is calving for the first time so she's a little confused. Mike is concerned that she's in pain. Tom says that everything is just fine and she's just a bit upset by the process because she's a new mom and doesn't understand what is happening to her. He suggests that if it will make him feel better, Mike can pull on the legs and help with the birth. Once born, he brings the baby over to the mom and she gets up and walks away which distresses Mike some more. However, when the guys walk away she comes back to her baby.

Mike doesn't stick around for the warm and fuzzy moment because there's another calving nearby. This calf has only one hoof presenting so they decide to help out. If only one foot comes out, the other foot inside could get tangled up and cause problems. Mike has to insert his hand inside the womb to find the other foot and pull it out. The baby bites him so they tell him to go under the head to find and bring the leg out. They will attach ropes to the legs to help pull the calf entirely out of the mother. Mike pulls on the ropes, but keeps losing traction. The head comes out and they have to catch the calf as it is born. They have Mike put his fingers into the nostrils to stimulate the calf into breathing.

The next cow in the birthing area has a twisted uterus. We meet Mike and Jim who are helping Tom and Denise with this birth. They will do a cesarean section on this cow. They give her a tranquilizer and local anesthesia. Then they will cut through three muscle layers, expose the uterus, cut through it and grab the legs and body of the calf. The cow will then be sutured back up.

It is very untypical for problems like this to occur and they only do about thirty C-sections a year on the farm. Mike is given the razor to shave where the incision will be made. He is doing it all wrong. The cow is given the anesthesia and scrubbed down. Denise holds up the tail so Mike doesn't get hurt as he watches. They get the uterus open and aminotic fluid comes out. The guys slowly bring the calf to the floor. Mike opens the nostrils. The calf is yellow because of the poo inside the womb. This occured because the calf was under stress and straining to come out. They saved its life by giving the cow a C-section. Mom is stitched up in a matter of minutes and all is well.

After their mothers lick them clean, calves are brought to the maternity ward where they will stay for about a day. They have hutches inside for this because it's too cold outside for the newborns. They need to get more acclimated to their new world. For the next eighty days they then will be in a pen outside with the other calves. In thirteen months they'll come full circle and be ready to reproduce.
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