Robot cheesemakers and bovine pickpockets: What you don't know about life on a dairy farm.
If you ask Warren Chamberlain, Dairylain Farms could easily be the inspiration for a pastoral landscape painting.
The dairy takes up about a quarter of the 400 sprawling acres of wide-open farmland that Warren and his son, Jason, own and operate alongside their wives, Lori and Mary.
All photos courtesy of Dairylain Farm.
"We have sunshine year-round, pretty much," Warren says. "We get very little rain. We’re actually in a desert, but it’s all irrigated, green, trees."
To the west of the farm sits a small mountain range, capped with snow that shines a brilliant white against an almost always blue sky.
"It’s just a beautiful place. You can’t beat it for raising kids and grandkids. And for livin'."
To the uninitiated, running a dairy sounds like hard, dirty, exhausting work. But according to the Chamberlains, the dairying life is worth the sacrifice of a little sweat.
Part of the joy they get from their work, says Warren, comes from the love of animals, specifically cattle, that's been passed through three generations. "I believe anybody that's in dairy loves animals," he says. "Animals and land — you gotta love 'em both."
Dairylain Farms is home to a herd of about 450 Jersey cows that produce milk that the Chamberlains then sell to a mozzarella plant in Idaho to be made into delicious cheese. (Fun fact: The milk produced by Jersey cows is higher in butterfat than that of other cows, so it's prime milk for cheesemaking.)
Warren explains that the cows are very curious animals. "You walk out into our pen, you’re gonna get surrounded by 50 to 80 animals all wanting to smell you," he says.
And that curiosity can verge on the nefarious — farm workers have been known to have their barn radio switched off or their wallet picked by a mischievous member of the herd. "Anything you have in your pocket, you’d better hold onto it ‘cause if they see it, they’re gonna grab it and take off," Warren laughs.
The cows are so friendly that even Warren’s kids and grandkids can work with them. In fact, that’s another reason he loves the dairy so much.
"What other job can a dad or granddad have that they can have their kids or grandkids with them all day long — watch them grow up, teach them?" he asks. "Most people get their kids from five o’clock in the evening 'til bedtime. We get ‘em all day."
As enjoyable as the work is, Dairylain Farms is a business, and the Chamberlains, like many dairy farmers, have continuously needed to find ways to innovate to keep up with the times. For them, that involves ... robots.
That's right — instead of milking the cows, the Chamberlains own robots that automate the entire milking process. "The cows come to the robot whenever they want," Warren says. "It cleans her, milks her, feeds her a little bit of grain, and sends her on her way."
The cows wear collars that monitor their health and activity levels, keep track of how often they’re milked, and send all that information to the Chamberlains. Each morning, Jason reviews the data to see if anything seems out of place — if a cow isn’t milking or if it’s walked less than normal or something else that might indicate a problem — and goes to check up on the animal himself. Automating the process helps the Chamberlains keep better, more accurate track of the health of their herd.
And for Warren, the health of the farm is the most important thing.
"You want to pass this stuff on through generations," Warren says. "And if you don’t take care of your cattle, you don’t take care of your land, you can’t pass it on."