Field Trip To Cochran Dairy


A visit to a family farm.

We went with the Henderson County, NC Barnyard Bandits 4 H Club on a field trip to Cochran Dairy today.

We met up with the club at 7:00 am.  The kids boarded a bus, and we followed in our van with our two youngest kids in tow.  The three older boys were so excited to be on the bus with the club, and headed to a working farm.  It has been three years since we left our farming lifestyle in Indiana, and we have missed it so much.



It was about an hours drive.  Thankfully, my husband enjoys driving in various situations.  I am the opposite.  I do not like driving through the mountains.  I am much better suited to either drive on flat straight roads (was raised in Kansas where every road was on a flat and straight square mile), or be the passenger, and assist the children with their needs, rather than be behind the wheel on the curvy and steep mountain roads.  Some of these roads are fine, but quickly some change hundreds to thousands of feet in elevation too quickly.  I get sick on a roller coaster, and some of these twists and turns and ups and downs in a vehicle feel a lot like it.



The farm we are visiting is situated in a narrow cove in the mountains.



When we arrived, all the children were excited as they unloaded from the bus.  The Cochran family was waiting there in front of the milk barn to greet us. 



This is a three generation family farm. Bill and Pat Cochran own the farm.  Their son, Sam and his wife Brenda and their two sons, Samuel and Riley, help run the farm. 

This is one terrific farming family!



The first room you enter is the milk room where the raw milk is stored after it comes from the cows.   This is grandson, Riley, standing at the cleaning sink.



Here, Sam explains the cleaning solution he mixes up to clean the milking pipelines. 
See the pipes above his head in the picture?  These suck up the cleaning solution and carry it into a maze of pipes into another room where the milking takes place.



Here is Bill, talking about his bulk tank.  This is what holds the raw milk after it comes through the pipelines.  Bill milks 50 cows, Holsteins and Holstein Guernsey crosses, two times a day.  The cows are milked every twelve hours. 

The 50 cows he milks, produce 2,400 lbs of milk a day and it is stored in this big stainless steal bulk tank.  This tank is like a large refrigerator.  It is cold inside.  There is a motor on top of the tank that spins a paddle inside the tank to stir the milk .  This helps the warm milk to chill faster as it comes into the tank.  To be Grade A milk, it must chill to 36 degrees within a half hour of leaving the cow.  Later, the milk is piped from the bulk tank to a big truck from MilkCo. one time a day, and is transported to a factory that homogenizes, pasteurizes, and bottles it.  Bill belongs to a milk coop called the Virginia Maryland Coop.



Next, Bill took us into the milking room.  Here he milks 8 cows at a time.  Each cow goes into their own stall that holds a feed pan which is near the wall.  Their tail end is flush with a corner of the orange railing and another railing panel, so their rear end is facing the farmer at an angle.  

Bill stands down in this walkway and cleans the cows udder and hooks the milking claws up to each teat.  You can see one of the milking claws and the attached tubing and pipelines behind the farmer’s head in this picture.  

After each milking, morning and night, the entire room and the claws and pipelines are completely cleaned and prepared for the next time.   This would be a tough job for Bill to do alone.  Thankfully, his family all works together to make this process run smoothly.

Bill is explaining how it works to our 4 H leader, Dr. Beverly.  Dr. Beverly is also a veterinarian and loves farms!  Family farms are disappearing at an alarming rate.  That is why she is heading up this Henderson County NC 4 H club, to teach the younger generation how wonderful farming can be.  I just want to say, thank you Dr. Beverly and the Cochran Family!  I wish there were more people like you!  Our family truly benefitted from all you did to bring us to visit this family farm.



Pat, Bill’s wife, took time to teach each child about how the machines milk the cow.  Here she is having each child put their fingers into the inflation cups of the milking claw so the kids can feel the pulsations and suction and understand how this helps extract the milk from the cows udder. 

A cow has one udder with four teats, and each claw has four inflation cups.  Each inflation on the claw attaches to each teat on the udder.  The claw helps to hold all four of the inflation cups together, and coordinates the piping for air and milk together in one bundle.

Pat is absolutely the sweetest lady I have met in a long, long time.  She is gentle with the kids and listens to each person old or young.  Each person is unique to her and they all have value.  She was great to talk to.  She is passionate about teaching the next generation in a very hands on way.



At the Cochran Dairy, the whole process is automated.  The milking pressure of the claw is regulated by the amount of air pressure and speed of pulsing sent through the line. Th
e farmer controls this process from a computerized control panel.  But the whole process still requires human monitoring and making adjustments if needed.



The Holstein is the largest dairy cow and produces the most quantity of milk of the dairy breeds.  Holstein milk is largely used in bottled milk as it has a lower cream content compared to other dairy breeds.  For example, Jersey cows have a large amount of cream in their milk.  Jersey milk is more “old fashioned” in our modern society, and it is often used for making butter and cheese or blended with Holstein milk for bottling.   Our country has basically done away with drinking whole fresh milk in its natural form.  Machinery alters it now to pasteurize it and homogenize it.  So the Holstein cow is more ideal for use in making bottled pasteurized and homogenized milk. 

There are many large factory farms that milk 500 to 1000 Holsteins a day.  I now of several that are totally automated and they basically have a factory of cows being moved around a great big building and milked three times a day by an automated robot.  NO KIDDING!   The whole process is totally scientific and totally in humane!   But Holstein cows are a little more of a challenge for family farms to raise.  They eat a whole lot more than the smaller breeds.  They are more reared for grain feed and less hay as they convert their diet into milk, where the more “old fashioned” breeds do a much better job of eating grass and hay and converting that diet into a higher quality, but lower in quantity, milk. 

For several reasons, Holsteins are more expensive to raise than other dairy breeds.  First is because of this larger feed need.  Also, because they are on a higher grain diet to produce more milk, they have to be culled sooner. So you have to buy or raise a new generation of milkers sooner. Grain burns up a cows stomach ( actually a system of 4 fermenting chambers or 4 stomachs).   If you ferment grass you get a special mix.  But if you ferment grain, you get a whole different mix and a lot more gas.  Cows are herbivores.  They are meant to eat grass, not a diet of grain.   So grains cause lots of digestive problems for cows.  Most farms get about 4 to 6 milking years from a Holstein and 12 to 14 milking years from an old fashioned cow such as a Jersey.   Holsteins also have more problems with giving birth, besides twisted and bloated stomaches, and require a lot more veterinarian intervention.  In my experience, Holsteins have a lot more vaginal issues, cesarean, etc (yeah that is right, a cow getting cesarian is common on a Holstein Dairy farm, because they birth larger calves.  They don’t have the physical stamina partly due to typically having less time spent in the pasture getting exercise and eating fresh grass.  So that definitely raises the bills to care for them.  But Holsteins are more desired for making bottled milk, so dairy’s are encouraged (financially) to raise them.  A farmer raising milk for bottling is paid on the 100 wt. of the milk.  So more volume equals more pay.  And the government offers special bonuses for the dairies.  A farmer raising milk for cheese or butter is also paid for the level of the cream they achieve such as 3% or 4%  in the volume of milk.  So with Jerseys, the farmer has less to sell per cow, but has higher cream and is paid for those features.  

Our modern society has made milk is so complicated !!!!

If you would like to learn more about raising cows for milk production, and the risks and benefits to the animals as well as to the farmers, I suggest reading articles from the Weston A Price Foundation and the Real Milk CampaignBoth of these groups are doing an amazing job to encourage the consumption of healthy milk, healthy meats, and promote the lifestyle of the family farm, and the freedom and benefits of raising local food.

Here is where the cows come in from the pasture and wait to be milked. 



The cows enter the milking parlor single file.  They walk to a feed pan, and are ready to get milking.



The next step is to dip the teats of the cow’s udder with a teat dip.  This dip was blue, and Sam said it feels like vaseline.  It has antibacterial properties to kill germs that could be on the teats if the cow happened to sit down in manure or a dirty place or was pooped on by another cow.  This dip helps kill microorganisms that could contaminate the milk.  After dipping the teat, it then gets wiped off with a paper towel.



Next, Sam let each of the children and adults milk a cow by hand.  He showed the children the proper way to place their hand and how to move their fingers to extract the milk.  Milking by hand is not done anymore.  But this is how the cows were milked many years ago, before the dairy had automated milking machines.



My son, age six, getting a lesson from Sam on how to hold the teats.



The four teats, or nipples, on a cows udder.



Here Sam is showing the children how to move their grip down the teat to extract the milk.



There were more lessons and opportunities for each person to practice. 

Bill explained that a cow who has just freshened (had a calf) gives a lot more milk than a cow who freshened several month ago.  These cows have a calf once a year.  The calves are removed as soon as they are born, and raised by hand, so the dairy can keep the milk and sell it for human consumption.



Bill raises his own hay for the cows on a 200 acre farm he owns in Tennessee, about 1 hour away.  Bill explained that because of the mountain terrain, and lots of housing that has reduced available farm ground, North Carolina farms in the mountains have a difficult time raising hay for their animals. 

The ground in this region doesn’t have a lot of topsoil and most of what isn’t covered in housing is rolling, forested, or in a flood plain.  Many in the farmers in the mountains raise tree crops, berries, grapes, or sesonal produce such as tomatoes and peppers in the lower flood plain areas.  Rasing livestock and grains to feed them, presents a much different challenge here, and so hay and grain are not raised as much.  Though animals such as cows, horses, and goats climb the hills just fine, it is life threatening to try and do it with a tractor or large farm equipment.  Erosion is another big factor.  Serious terracing would have to be done to use some of the rolling ground, and it is very cost prohibitive.

It costs a lot to buy hay at retail.  Talk to any horse farmer here and they’ll tell you the costs of feed that you wouldn’t believe.  As a matter of fact.  When we lived in Indiana, many of our farming friends would raise hay just to sell to the farmers, especially horse farmers, down here.  So many of the livestock farmers who make a full time living farming here, own or rent farm ground in other states to raise hay, grass, or additional animals, and help with the costs of being a farmer. 

Though this farm family loves the mountains, and they can’t imagine any other life, it is a difficult place to try and farm here.  Most people give up, as it is too costly to do and make a living at it.  For some farmers who want to keep the lifestyle, it becomes an expensive hobby rather than a way to make a living, as you end up spending more than you make at it.  Our bus driver shared a lot of personal stories in regards to the current state of family farms here.

Farmers are paid very little for what they do.  And the expenses that go into producing food at a commercial level are huge.  Not considering the costs of equipment to run a farm, barns, and all that goes into them, livestock, feed and the up keep, the ground itself is cost prohibitive. 

Good fertile ground in Indiana, Illinois, Ohio, and Kentucky can be bought for 2,500 to 3,500 and acre. Many times you can get a house, fenced pasture, and barns at no additional cost with the purchase of at least 100 acres to 200 acres.   Currently, ground that would be good farm ground in the Henderson County, NC and surrounding areas, goes for 22,000 to 100,000 per acre, and no working farm house or barns. This is due to a huge demand for housing and development.  Just an hour or so south down the mountain, you can get farm ground for 10,000 to 15,000 an acre, still expensive from a farming standpoint, and in many ways it is still far less productive for making alfalfa hay and growing grains.  There farm ground in SC that produces grass hay, but it is minimal in comparison, due to lower rain fall levels.  It is good for pasture, and some produce, cotton, and rice the further the south you go.  

Most of the farmers in this area received their ground from family, the previous generation, either parents or grandparents, as the younger generation can not afford to buy it and make a living on it. 

A farmer can make a lot more by selling off his ground for housing and development than he can by farming it.  With these issues and all the considerations mentioned, it is no wonder the family farms here and through out much of the country have nearly disappeared!  With these presures, this is a much more difficult lifestyle to keep any way you look at it.



Well,  we are off to the next family farm to see sheep, goats, and a livestock sale.  Then we will head back to the Cochran Family Farm to for a wonderful lunch and to see their pig operation.  They typically raise 200 pigs at a time. 

We left our vehicle and loaded the bus with all the kids and headed back down the cove.  So glad we had a good bus driver who is a great mountain driver.  I wasn’t nervous one bit.  Ok, maybe a little bit.   But seriously he was a great driver and volunteered his time to drive around this 4 H club of kids.  He drives a dump truck and has also been a farmer for his whole life in Ettowah, NC.   A great fella, and I sincerely want to thank him for his time driving around the mountains with this group of kids, and sharing his farm stories with me. 




Well if you want to see the next part of our field trip adventure, you will have to read about it here(I’ll post the link as soon as I get it published)

And if you don’t, well then just stop and take a minute to think about a few things…

Farming is physically demanding.  It requires physical stamina.    Grain and produce farming is more seasonal.  Livestock farming is a 24 hour a day, 7 day a week responsibility.  Bill and Pat Cochran never get a break.   Farming is high pressure responsibilities, for little pay.  

Yet, despite the difficulties farmers face, farming is highly rewarding in many other ways.  For example, you live where you work, so you don’t waist a lot of time commuting to a job.  You don’t have to work in nice clothes, so it saves on the clothing budget.  You get to raise your own food and food for others.  It is also great to be together as a family, and dad and mom don’t have to leave to go to a different job. (Though many farmers do get part time work off the farm to bring in extra income above what the farm produces.  Also many do this to get health insurance benefits as it is too costly to buy health insurance as an individual.)  But being close to home is one of the best benefits, and it has helped farmers raise strong family units.  You get to be your own boss and there is a lot of freedom in that.  You get to be outside a lot, you become very connected to the earth, animals, crops, and the weather patterns because your work depends on it.  You learn about insects, and soils, and nutrients.  You may learn about natural remedies, or you may take the mainstream approach and learn about commercial herbicides and pesticides.   There is a variety of things to do so you never get bored ( though a job like milking that requires the same routine and milking every 12 hours can get tedious or the feeling of never getting a break (vacation), as I know from experience, but the rest of it has great variety each day).  There are many more benefits, but that is enough to mention for now.

Farming is a lifestyle.  It is not a job sperate from your lifestyle.   

I know 4H make a difference in the future, as it exposes kids to so many hands on opportunities.  I believe we need these hands
on experiences to raise resourceful, strong people, and leaders for the future of our country.  Real life is not a virtual life, spent in front of a computer, a video game, or TV.  Those skills are important as we live in a modernized world and nearly every job or aspect of society utilizes technology in some way.  But it doesn’t produce people who are well grounded, and dedicated, and able to handle personal conflicts, or life challenges that arise.  Without hands on experience, there is a piece of a healthy life and balance left out.

I definitely believe that every kid should have the opportunity to help raise a garden.  Learning how to produce food is a valuable skill everyone needs.  In many foreign countries, if you don’t produce food, you would starve.  Up until the 1950’s everyone in our own country could raise a garden, except for some of the poorest people in the slums.  Why have we forgotten what an important skill this is?  Why do we only rely on a grocery store or a restaurant to acquire our foods.  A combination of laws and technology have basically forced the local food grower to almost disappear.  Yet if you look close enough, you can still find them.  Local Harvest and your town’s local farmer’s market is a good place to start your search.

I also wish that every kid, say anytime around age 10-12 upto 18 could unplug from computers, TV, and cell phones and could go with their family, and spend a year or even just a summer on the farm.  I really believe it would affect society in a positive way.  It would impact how we as a society value life, resources, and our priorities, if all young people had the chance to live the hands on lifestyle for a time.  Yes I have seen both sides.  I have seen the difference.  What an awesome summer camp, or year, of real hands on schooling this could be!!!  

So Mr. President, and any other organizations who might want to help, if you are listening and truly want to impact the future, please consider such a suggestion.  Give families with youth an income for a summer, or for one year to support their labor on a family farm educating the future generation in responsibility, being resourceful, strengthening the family unit, caring for the land, and growing local food for the food consumption needs of more than just their own family, but larger society. 

A one year full scholarship to the school of “HANDS ON FAMILY FARM” to build better families and better citizens.  What a dream!


We would likely see a revival of family farming as a way of life.

(Don’t forget to read the next article about this amazing field trip, we are only half way through. There are lots of adorable pictures with kids and baby animals…stay tuned….)




What do you do to expose your kids to the issues surrounding farming and food production?  Leave us a comment and let us know.  Thank you.




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