Not every Cabot dairy farmer actually owns a farm, or even a cow. In fact, some aren’t even farmers. One such example is CREAM, standing for Cooperative for Real Education in Agricultural Management, an original and innovative concept within the University of Vermont’s Animal Science Department. The program, under the direction of Dr. Norman Purdie, allows 15 students to milk, manage and care for the University’s herd of Registered Holstein and Jersey cattle each school year.
CREAM started in 1988, when a group of students banded together, leasing 18 cows and stalls from the University. The prefix was filed with the Holstein Association in 1989; after just one year, the students were already beginning to establish a name for the herd. The herd expanded to 30 cows and an advisory board was formed to be a resource to the students. By 1991, CREAM was in the new barn and became a separate DHIA herd, selling milk to the St. Albans Coop.
During this time, CREAM began further promotion through their show string. Since then, CREAM has hosted tours for Russian farmers, Agropur from Quebec, National DHIA members, National Dairy Leaders’ Conference members, and German Holstein Breeders. By the spring of 1994, CREAM owned all of their cows and heifers. Later that year, CREAM helped McGill University in Montreal establish a CREAM-like program, suitably called MILK. In 1997, they consulted with the Universities of Maine and New Hampshire in helping them to set up similar programs. The model has been so popular that it even has been replicated in Ireland.
Today, the program has 34 milking cows, roughly equally comprised of Holstein and Jersey cattle. CREAMers are tasked with daily milking and stall cleanings, divided amongst the members, requiring alarm clocks to be set as early as 3:00AM. While this would appear almost criminal to the typical college student, the CREAM program is highly selective, having to turn away applicants each semester. Though the hours are early and the work often grueling, the payoff can be great.
Students in the program, often having little to no dairy farm experience prior to enrolling, learn first hand about the animals’ requirements, diet and biology, extremely useful to the animal science majors that typical seek acceptance. Many are tracked pre-vet, and feel their participation in CREAM greatly enhances their resumes when applying to veterinary medicine programs.
CREAM also teaches life skills. Students are forced to work together in a sometimes stressful environment, bringing out inherent leadership qualities in some, or building confidence and decision making abilities in others. Through participation in meetings and committees, the students learn group and business management skills and how to communicate effectively. Most of all, by working so closely together to care for the herd, they often develop life-long friendships that only come through intensive communal experiences.
CREAM has won several herd production and milk quality awards and in 1996 was awarded the Progressive Genetics Award from Holstein-USA. In 1997, UVM Forcaster