Students, alumni clamour to take care of university’s cows

BURLINGTON, VERMONT (AP) — When the coronavirus pandemic forced the University of Vermont to close and send its students home, the alarm spread: What would happen to the cows?

The university’s beloved herd of about 100 dairy cows is normally tended by students taking part in the Cooperative for Real Education in Agricultural Management programme, or CREAM. And without those students, the fate of the cows seemed to be in jeopardy. In no time, dozens of CREAM alumni and students clamoured to spend their spring and summer caring for the Holsteins.

“I would rather do nothing else than this over the summer,” said recent graduate Claudia Sacks, of Macungie, Pennsylvania.

On a recent hot weekday, she rose in the dark to help milk the cows at 3.30am. By early afternoon she was shovelling out the calves’ stalls. When she saw her favourite cow, Lazlo, she hugged her around the neck. “I’ve learned so much from them,” she said.

“They’ve taught me how to be a kind person and how to love other people. You go into the barn and you see one of the cows licking another cow and it’s just a sense of sisterhood almost between them so it’s really lovely to see the family that they’ve formed between themselves but also the family that we can form with them.”

The other six students are passionate, too, about the animals and hope to go to veterinary school. They know the cows by name, how much milk each one is giving, who each cow’s sire is, who she’s bred to and when she’s due to calve, said faculty advisor and veterinarian Dr Steve Wadsworth.

Many have other jobs as well and are working at the farm because they have a passion for animals and agriculture, he said. “These cows as well cared for as any animals in Vermont, maybe any animals in the country,” he said. “These students love these cows to pieces.” And it shows, as they talk to the cows while guiding them into the milking parlour, or try to move a cow’s leg while attaching the tubes of the automatic milking machine to her teats. They milk the cows twice a day, feed them and the calves, muck the barns and help with births, any time of the day or night.

Amid a pandemic, some workers said they are glad to have meaningful chores and to be with the animals.