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Alumni Profiles - Simon Alexander

Witter barn at dusk

The early morning milking at Witter

No matter the season, early mornings on the farm evoke a simple beauty. Across the 300 acres of open and fenced pastures surrounding the Witter Center, moonshine dances off fresh blankets of snow and, in summer, mist rises from the standing hay. In the barn, the setting is nearly as romantic when the two rows of Holsteins stand stanchioned, waiting.

But as any dairy farmer will tell you, the work is arduous, dirty and regular as clockwork. And rewarding.

Each semester, about a dozen students, some of whom have no prior experience with large animals, are scheduled to undertake the daily milkings and chores at 3:30–7 a.m. and 3–5:30 p.m. In addition, the students are responsible for such activities as keeping the herd book, feedings, and barn mucking and cleaning. The dairy cattle technology class taught by Marcinkowski meets weekly for discussions in a room at the Witter Center and for demonstrations in the barn that blend theory and practice.

The students have to know their way around cows and dairy production, and they take their responsibility for the animals and their peers seriously. Scheduled for the morning milking and don’t show up? That means you’ve left your milking partner flying solo — a very unpleasant task when 35 cows wait anxiously to be milked. Show up too late and you’ll also face a barn full of agitated, uncomfortable bovine.

Typically, the pair of students assigned to morning chores begins by checking the milking system, readying the sanitizers and generally cleaning up. Any given morning can come with its share of surprises, including new calves delivered overnight.

Weekly, one student is named productions herdsperson, another named heifer herdsperson, with responsibilities for monitoring vaccinations and heat checks, and cleaning the maternity pens.

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