Monday, August 17, 2009
A "Dairy" Good Day At Fair Oaks Farm
Did you know that my mom moonlights as a cruise director/Vanna White for large groups of senior citizens throughout the year? As part of her job description, she in charge of planning, coordinating, and chaperoning day and overnight trips for groups of seniors, collectively referred to as The RoadRunners, who are customers at her bank. Since taking on this role, my mom has taken them to places such as dinner theaters, riverboat cruises, Door County, and Branson. She has even been so brave as to take a large number of them on a chartered bus to Washington D.C. for a week. Her next big trip is a tour of the Northeast during the fall if anyone over the age of 60 is interested.
This foray into event planning led us to our last hurrah for the summer last Friday. My mom had told me about Fair Oaks Farm in Fair Oaks, Indiana last spring following a trip with her RoadRunners, and after checking out their website I immediately added the location to my summer vacation must-see list. Mom said early on that she would enjoy visiting again, this time with "her girls", and we were able to talk my dad into going after reminding him of the many delicious cheeses the dairy offered. The General, despite my best effort to convince him otherwise, firmly refused to go. "A dairy? Really," he replied dryly and not at all enthusiastically when I told him about my idea for a day away. He was skeptical of my promise of a day of fun; he can be such a killjoy.
So, with my newly recruited extra sets of hands, the five of us set off from OCH headquarters. This adventure was extra special as it marked the first time our children had been taken across the state border. My dad insists our are children are sheltered; later on I used Punkin's fourth tantrum of the day as illustration as to why we haven't ventured farther from home previously.
The day started off with a laugh, courtesy of Punkin naturally. We'd been talking about the dairy and what we were going to see there for a week prior to our trip but apparently Punkin only heard the "dairy" part of those conversations. Ten miles from home she had a mild panic attack, yelling from the backseat, "Turn around! You already passed it!" leading us to describe once again the difference between "dairy farm" and "Dairy Queen".
Construction along our route made the trip there long, and I was thankful many times over for the use of Seventh Heaven's portable DVD player. Once we finally arrived we immediately jumped into all the attractions.
We started with a brief 3-D movie highlighting the day-to-day operations of a working dairy farm. To say Punkin was not impressed with the vibrating seats and spritz of water imitating milk spraying and other bodily functions of the bovine variety is a slight understatement. Her direct quote: "I neva wanna do dat movie eva again!".
Following that experience which has surely scarred our youngest for years to come, we high tailed it over to my favorite spot on the farm, the Birthing Barn.
First of all, is there any animal cuter than that of a newborn calf (following a thorough cleaning by its mother of course because otherwise just yuck)? Secondly, watching these cows labor with their 80+ pound offspring provoked feelings that I did not anticipate prior to entering this arena like environment. As I sat there watching the cows attempt to deliver their calf it's like I was one with the mama cow. I'd watch her body contract as she attempted to push her baby out and I'd find myself balled up in a sympathy push of my own, willing her to just get that baby out already. Similarly, seeing their bulging milk bag (note: no idea if this is an official term but it's what I used to reference that part of her anatomy holding milk) took me right back to the days of my own brief stint as Elsie the dairy cow while exclusively pumping after Punkin's birth. I had nothing but sympathy for those poor, engorged new mothers. There was one laboring cow whose bag was so enormous that she could barely walk. "Won't someone just milk her already!" I kept saying in my head (and once or twice out loud)*. The lesson I learned from my time in the Birthing Barn was this: any mother can totally relate to those new mama cows. Watching them in the midst of one of life's greatest moments is just another example of how childbirth serves to unite all members of the animal kingdom, big or small.
I think there were somewhere between six to eight calves born while we were there (including a set of twins!). Unfortunately for both the cows and us the deliveries we witnessed didn't go without human intervention and Shortcake got a lesson in how vets help deliver newborn calves when the mama cow (or in one case, the calf) needs a little help. Shortcake was very interested in the goings on in the Birthing Barn, but her favorite moment of the day was being able to watch a new calf be bottle fed. Punkin's take on the whole affair? Not interested which frankly I was sort of happy about. I was just waiting for that anything-but-indoor voice to ask, "Hey! What's that thing comin' out of that cow's butt?!?!?".
Following the adventures of the Birthing Barn, we let the girls enjoy some of the other kid-friendly attractions and ate our picnic lunch.
After lunch we boarded our Moo Bus for a driving tour of one of the farm's barns. This dairy, which consists of 19,000 acres, is home to over 30,000 dairy cows.
The tour takes you up close and personal with some of the cows. Talk about being all up in someone's personal space.
More babies! I wanted to take one home. That would have taught The General a lesson about leaving me to visit a dairy unsupervised.
Fair Oaks Farm is a free roaming operation allowing cows to, get this, roam free. Here's a group running from our oncoming bus.
More cows. Pretty maids all lined up in a row.
The next stop on our bus tour was an observation of the milking process. Behold, the Dairy-go-Round.
Via this contraption, seventy-two cows are milked simultaneously on a carousel rotating new cows in without stopping. It takes each cow eight minutes to complete a cycle, and you'll see in the top left corner a holding pen with approximately 350 cows waiting their turn. Milking sure has come a long way since the days of your youth, huh Grapa?
After our bus tour, another stop to the birthing barn, and a quick walk through of the visitor's center we headed to the farm's cheese factory where we enjoyed some dairy fresh ice cream, free cheese samples, and a time-out for one overtired and defiant little girl.
I highly recommend a visit to Fair Oaks Farm for any cow lover or agriculturally minded individual. I can think of at least three groups that would highly enjoy a visit to Fair Oaks, Indiana and would encourage all to attend. If nothing else you can always just make the trip worthwhile by hanging out at the free cheese counter and enjoying until your heart's content.
They had a good time too, trust me.
*Subsequently, that poor cow gave birth to a 98 pound calf without so much as a moo of protest or sedative to take off the edge. God help her for a speedy recovery is all I can say about that.