This week, the University of Connecticut has collected two National Championships, winning both the Men’s and Women’s NCAA Division I Basketball Tournaments. Next week the UCONN Dairy Program will be taking home another Championship, of sorts, when they collect the Top Quality Milk Award for their Region within the Agri-Mark Cooperative, made up of the 1,200 farm families who own Cabot Creamery. They are also being recognized for finishing 2nd overall in the entire Co-op. The National Mastitis Council recently recognized UCONN as a 2013 ‘Gold Level’ award winner. That award places them among the top 25 milk quality producers in the United States out of approximately 60,000 farms.
Cabot Creamery Cooperative, the brand the UCONN Dairy Program cooperatively owns, along with 1,200 other farm families throughout New York and New England, won its 4th Blue Ribbon in the Aged Cheese Category at the 2014 World Cheese Championships. The Cooperative also swept the Cottage Category at the competition, taking home the top three spots.
In addition to shipping milk to the cooperative, the UCONN Dairy Program also provides milk for ice cream that is made and sold right on campus and generally regarded as world-class itself. The University is also exploring cheese-making possibilities, having recently added a microbiologist with a knack for cheese-making to their faculty.
When asked about the secret to making such high quality milk, Mary-Margaret Cole, the Executive Program Director of the Animal Science Department at UCONN, sounded like a seasoned coach, saying, “We use the same formula that I imagine most successful people subscribe to, including the UCONN basketball teams. We pay close attention to detail. For our dairy program, success is all about cleanliness and cow comfort.”
An enormous amount of work goes into making the extremely high quality milk the UCONN Dairy Program is producing. Craig Jones, the Agri-Mark Field Representative responsible for inspections and routine check-ins on the farm, says, “UCONN is truly a pleasure to work with. They do everything the right way. It’s not a surprise to see them win these awards, but it is very exciting. There are no higher honors that a dairy farm could receive.”
“A happy, comfortable cow tends to produce more and better milk, and we think that’s an important lesson to pass on to the students and the public,” says Mary-Margaret Cole. The herd at UCONN receives regular hoof trimmings, check-ins with nutritionists and veterinarians and a great deal of individual attention. UCONN recently installed soft mattresses with pine sawdust for all their cattle to increase the comfort level of their herd.
To add a degree of difficulty to the UCONN Dairy Program’s impressive accomplishments, students handle the evening milking – and about half of them do not have a dairy farming background. Whether or not they have ever milked a cow before they arrive on campus, the students learn a great deal in their time in the program, from milking and halter training to participating in research projects.
“One of the greatest rewards of my job is seeing the students put together what they learn in the classroom and apply it on the farm. It’s nice to see students come in as nervous freshmen and leave as accomplished young adults,” says Cole.
The UCONN dairy barn is open 365 days per year. Their ‘practices’ are all open to the public, every practice counts and their ‘players’ are at least twice as large as any Power Forward on the Basketball Team. Whether they are busy with calves being born, equipment breaking down or eight busloads of children from local schools arriving at the same time, this is one team that has to be on top of their game every minute of every day. The faculty and students won’t get a day off to celebrate their championships and accomplishments – and that’s all the more reason to celebrate all their hard work and dedication to their craft. Congratulations on yet another win for the University of Connecticut.
Please visit our Virtual Farm Tours to learn more about this farm and other Cabot farms.