McKenna Lawrence wanted to know one thing after a demonstration in the Fort Worth Stock Show’s new milking parlor.
“I asked why would the cows not get hurt,” by the machines that pull moo juice from their udders, said McKenna, a 9-year-old from Leesville, La. “He said it takes away the pressure, so it actually feels good to them.”
Ralph Keel, one of a handful of dairy professionals who conduct hourly shows in the 1,000-square-foot parlor in Cattle Barn 2, said that’s a common question. And the answer is the reason there are five milking stations, though the people from Southwest Dairy Farmers typically use only one during their shows. Folks who bring cows for the dairy cattle shows leave their equipment at home, but still need to take care of daily business.
The dairy cattle shows continue through Tuesday.
“There are roughly 800 head of dairy cattle entries in the shows,” said Stefan Marchman, livestock show manager. “As many as 200 of them will need milking while they’re here.”
The milking parlor is among $15 million in renovations made to Cattle Barn 2 and helps separate Fort Worth from other cities that have livestock shows, said Jay Crawford, assistant to the director of events and exhibits for Southwest Dairy Farmers.
“When other cities are tearing theirs down, Fort Worth built a new one,” Crawford said. “This one and San Antonio are the only two stock show milking parlors in Texas now.”
The new parlor features an auditorium that will comfortably seat about 120 visitors. On most days the demonstrations start at 10 a.m. and run through 6 p.m.
“We start at 9 a.m. on school tour days, and we’ll milk every time there’s a group of kids,” Crawford said. “That’s our main goal, showing school kids how milk gets from the farm to the table.”
Teaching kids and adults
The new auditorium is a lot more conducive to learning. The old setup put visitors on benches alongside a busy corridor between barns. The noise and foot traffic created distractions. The new auditorium is in a room of its own. Milking stations are on the other side of a glass wall that’s so big there’s no bad sightline. A couple of massive overhead monitors let audiences watch videos and slides that help them understand what narrators are telling them about milking operations and the industry.
“We’ll have four cows to milk, and with this big window we’ll probably do one cow at a time,” Crawford said. “We used to do two, because some folks on the end couldn’t see what was happening if we only used one.”
McKenna’s mom, Fort Worth native Amanda Lawrence, said she can’t remember the old milking parlor, even though she went to every Stock Show in the first 21 years of her life. Back “home” visiting her parents, she was not only happy that her kids got to see cows being milked, but also excited to learn about dairy farming herself.
“It was really cool,” said Lawrence, 30, an Army veteran. “I knew cows are sweet and taste good, but I never thought much about where milk comes from and all the other things we get from it.”
Indeed, even those big overhead monitors are part dairy product, Keel said.
“The whey that’s a by-product of the cheese-making process is used in the materials that the TVs are made from,” Keel said.
Milk is not pasteurized
Unfortunately, the roughly 16 gallons of milk that’s collected daily in the demonstrations, as well as all that’s collected from show cattle, can’t be used because it can’t be pasteurized on-site, Crawford said.
“Since this is not a grade-A dairy, we can’t sell it or even give it to anyone,” Crawford said. “Even during the dairy cattle shows, there’s not enough milk in a day to warrant bringing in a truck” to haul it to a processing plant.
So all of it is poured into a special drain in a corner of the parlor.
But there’s no reason to cry over that spilled milk. The real value is in the education of hundreds of kids and adults who watch the shows that Southwest Dairy Farmers has been doing since 1989, Keel said. It’s important enough for the organization that represents member farms in Texas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Missouri, Kansas and Arizona to keep doing them for free.
“I don’t usually like to be educated,” McKenna said, “but this was good.”