Though Fishing is Divine, Cows are Bovine!

Hello and welcome to the blog!  Monday and Tuesday (and part of Wednesday) were spent up north… a celebration of sorts.  There is a new job starting next week and it seemed like a good idea to get in some fishing while there was still a chance!  The new position is a temp-to-hire position, like the last one, and the pay is decent.  I’m pretty excited!

Big Spring pond on a gloomy day…

On Monday the plan was to do some fishing.  I didn’t decide the destination until the last second… and being late it was a good idea to hit the hatchery pond first because it is closer to home.  This was the first stocking day of the year.  Due to recent flooding the pond was murky.  I caught 3 holdover fish from last fall.  Though Gary stocked later, the trout were slow to bite.  The 34 degree weather (25-30 MPH winds) made it necessary to move on.  In the meantime hatchery Biologist Gary’s dog Woody, the chocolate lab, visited me and was rewarded with a breakfast burrito.



The “Hall of Breeds”


From the hatchery I headed north and west.  On the way to Decorah there is a must visit place to see called the Iowa Dairy Center which is operated by the Northeast Iowa Dairy Foundation.  It is near the town of Calmar (10 minutes south of Decorah).

The dairy center partners with the Northeast Iowa Community College (NIACC  – “nye-ack”)  and Iowa State University, educating students about the care of dairy animals and production of milk.  Extensive guided tours are available for a fee.  A free walking tour (limited access to certain areas) is also offered.  Plenty can be learned from the self-guided option.

Interesting skeleton of a cow.  No wonder they cannot walk down stairs!


Multiple large metal buildings house about 250 head of cattle.  Some are milked by robots, some are milked using human operated machines.

The dark silver apparatus slides back and forth until it lines up with the cow.


Upon arriving at 11:45 I was able to see a milking robot in action in one of the large buildings.  Windows provide a limited view of the action.  A gate allows a cow to enter the robotic machine and then the gate closes.  Sensors measure where to attach the milking apparatus.  The robot connects hoses to the animal in the stall and performs the milking action.  One might ask what a robotic machine costs.  I saw online that they cost about $180,000.

By the way, in the picture below the cows’ teats are green, having been sprayed with a disinfectant.  This is to keep the robot and milk clean from cow-to-cow.


Green teats… Cleaned and sanitized.


After watching the robotic milking, the next stop was the “Hall of Breeds”.  All the way down the hallway were various displays of old dairy equipment.  Of particular interest were the various pictures of breeds, their origins, and special characteristics.  The “Holstein” exhibit is featured above.

Here are some of the random facts I picked about dairy cows.

  • More than 90% of dairy cows are Holsteins (black and white).
  • Dairy cows can put out 7 to 12 gallons of milk per day.
  • Most of Iowa’s milk is used for cheese production.
  • Cows drink up to 50 gallons of water per day and can eat 100 pounds of feed daily.
  • The black and white splotches on a Holstein are as unique as a human’s fingerprint.
  • Cows naturally form herds.  Cows are like people and choose their “friends”.
  • The seven most common types of dairy cows in the US are:  Holstein, Jersey, Guernsey, Brown Swiss, Ayrshire, Milking Shorthorn, and the Red and White Holstein.
  • Of all the breeds, the Jersey and Guernsey cows have the highest milkfat and milk protein levels.
  • Of all the breeds listed, the Holstein has the lowest milkfat and protein levels.

A student tending to the cows in the herringbone milking parlor.


The next stop was to see the cows being milked without the use of a robot.  There was a platform set up above the milking parlor.  The young man in the picture above manually connected the apparatus to each cow’s teats.  There were two milking areas for us to see: the herringbone and the parallel setup.  In both, the cows walk up a ramp, are milked, and then walk back down a ramp.  This happens 3 times per day – 4:00 AM, 12:00 PM, and 8 PM.  Just a side note – ramps are used.  Cows can walk up stairs but due to their skeletal structure, they cannot walk down stairs!  You can kind of see this in the skeleton photo above.


The parallel side… preferred by most cows and farmers alike.


Both sides of the milking parlor do the same thing.  The cows in the parallel milking arrangement stand side-by-side.  I read that the cows seem to prefer this setup, as do the farmers.  In the picture below the animals are arranged at a 45 degree angle.  I learned that in general the cows do not like this “diagonal parking”.


Herringbone style

After having grown up in the city, I found the dairy center fascinating.  It’s still a little unnerving to see the suppliers of our milk pissing and pooping in front of a person.  But there are very good safeguards in place to keep our milk supply safe.  As a dairy consumer, the net effect it seemed to have on me was the desire for some darned good ice cream!

After the Iowa Dairy Center, I drove the 10 or so miles into Decorah.  Since it was the first day of trout stocking, the stream was busy – every parking area full.  It’s no fun when it’s that packed.  In talking to one old boy, I learned the “Whippy Dip” had opened that day.  This old converted Dairy Queen is a must-visit in Decorah.  It’s rare when you don’t see a line outside!  Their soft-serve ice cream made me all the more grateful for that Holstein cow giving up her milk.


The Whippy Dip… Great stuff!


Later in the evening I went back to the trout stream and there was nobody around.  It was possible to pull one more fish out for a daily total of four.  By this time I was cold and ready to turn in for the evening!  The Walmart parking lot meant free camping after a long day in the cold weather.

On Tuesday, there was more fishing and some new and healthier foods cooked up.  That will be on the next post… closer to the weekend.

Take care and thanks for visiting.  Safe and happy camping!

Brad and Jenny and Duke
Jones County, Iowa

About VanTrekker

I am a former vandweller in Eastern Iowa who, for several years (off and on), lived in a 2007 Chevy cargo van. I still travel around Iowa with my tortoise shell cat, Jennifer Stefanie. Our favorite place to explore is the Country Heritage Community, the four far northeastern counties of Iowa (Clayton, Winneshiek, Allamakee, and Fayette). Ride along as we fish in pristine trout streams, enjoy fine home cooked camping meals, and meet new people. It's all possible on a shoestring budget. Happy travels always! --- Brad, the "Van Trekker"
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7 Responses to Though Fishing is Divine, Cows are Bovine!

  1. Jo Harmon says:

    You sure had an interesting day of fishing and cow education. I would never want to stand on the back end of one of those ladies. I used to watch the show The Last Frontier and how milking the cow was such and nasty job until the old man built her a milking wagon. Don’t think I would make a very good farmer.
    Will be waiting to see what meals you’l be posting.

    Never did get to go camping this week due to a family medical emergency and super high winds.

    • VanTrekker says:

      Hi Jo! Some more camping opportunities will come your way soon. I got burned out on camping on doing it so much during the cold weather. But the cow and fish trip kind of reinvigorated me a bit. It helped with the lung problems as well. The milking setup looked slick but as he was getting to the Holstein closed to me, she suddenly peed with a WHOOSH! It’s sort of like that old saying, “a cow pissing on a flat rock”. There is a guard but I’ll bet that old Bessie could have gotten him! The kicking would be my greatest fear.

      I’m working on the second day post and the food thoughts. Duke got some baked trout over buttered cous cous tonight. He is enjoying the people protein! Take care! — VT

  2. Pleinguy says:

    Ahhh, Whippy Dip memories.

    • VanTrekker says:

      Hi Pleinguy! The Whippy Dip is as good as ever. The ice cream knocked me out for a while but oh, it was worth it. The goal is do something different each trip but the familiar is fun, too! Take care!

  3. my_vantasy says:

    Congrats on the new job. Yay you! Wow, you learned a lot from the dairy center and so did I now. Thanks for sharing. I’m no mathlete, but 250 cows producing 7 to 12 gallons each…that’s a lot of milk! I wonder–is this a large, small or medium size operation? I guess I never thought about where my yogurt, cheese and sour cream comes from. I hope the new job assignment is going well!

    • VanTrekker says:

      Hi! I’m guessing 250 is sort of a medium facility. I’ve heard of some farms having 2500 cows. I love milk and dairy but it seems like lately it’s been upsetting my stomach…. but pass the pizza, please. 🙂 The first two days of training has been kind of intense. They keep promising baby steps so I’m taking them at their work. There is much to learn but I like that money! Take care! VT

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