Marcinkowski, who grew up on a dairy farm in northern New York, drives home the importance of safety for both the animals and the students. Students are required to pass several training courses, including farm safety, and operating procedures for equipment and machinery. He also talks about some of the harsh realities.
“We’re going to handle drugs in this class,” Marcinkowski tells them early on in the course. “Stuff happens; you’re holding onto a cow with one hand and trying to inject it with the other. If you get stuck, report it.
“Somebody will pick up ringworm this semester. The good news is, once you have it, you’re immune to it for a while.”
Marcinkowski also talks about biosecurity issues and urges students working on this and other farms to keep a separate change of clothes for each facility to prevent contamination.
Marcinkowski admits that having a group of greenhorns in a barn isn’t an ideal way to run a dairy. “It’s really difficult,” he says. “It’s quite a bit easier with a small farm with only a couple of people milking. With 14 or 15 students milking the cows every week, it’s hard to find consistency.”
But then, as it happens each semester, the students hit their stride. And the co-op hums.
“It’s a kick to just watch students come in at the beginning and be absolutely terrified of cows because they’ve never had a pet over 20 pounds. Eventually they learn that they’re just big fuzzy puppy dogs,” Marcinkowski says.
Those puppies each weigh in at around three-quarters of a ton and have even bigger personalities. The students can’t get enough of them.
Jennifer McGintee of Windham, Maine, an animal and veterinary sciences major with a pre-vet concentration who graduated in May, introduces a visitor to Coffee Cake, standing in a pen segregated from the rest.
“She’s not ready to calve,” says McGintee. “She’s just huge and kind of a dope.”
Rebel likes to steal paper towels from the back pockets of those trying to milk her. Nessie loves attention and frequently plays “queen of the hill” on the snowbanks. And Skylar, “she likes to kick,” says McGintee.