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Coco helps educate students on milk production
Mobile Dairy Classroom comes to Carroll Fowler
Kimberlee McLaughlin tells Carroll Fowler Elementary School students all about dairy cows, with Coco, a 1,000-pound Holstein. The Mobile Dairy Classroom is a feature of the Dairy Council of California. - photo by JEFF BENZIGER/Courier photo

Coco, a 1,000-pound bovine from Galt, was introduced to Carroll Fowler Elementary School students on Thursday morning as a representative of the 1.7 million dairy cows producing milk each day in California.

Kimberlee McLaughlin demonstrated how milk comes from a cow by reaching under the four-year-old Holstein dairy cow, grasping a teat on the udder, and tugging on it to squirt a milky stream onto the blacktop in front of assembled students.

The reaction - cries of "ewe-e-e-e" and "ooh" - was priceless and part of a memorable education on dairy cows offered by the Dairy Council of California on Thursday morning.

"Did you guys just scream at milk?" replied Youman, appearing to be stunned. "You're afraid of milk?!

McLaughlin, a Fresno State University graduate, stood in front of the Mobile Dairy Classroom trailer where Coco continued to eating alfalfa, unaffected by hundreds of watching students. She explained that the cow can only give milk because she has calved before. Coco, she said, produces nine gallons of milk each day.

She explained that milk, cheese, yogurt, butter, cream cheese, sour cream, whipped cream, ice cream and cottage cheese all are made of products from a cow.

Students were shown a milking claw, which allows a cow to be milked by machine rather than by hand in the olden days. The warm milk is cooled down and removed to be processed.

She shared that cows become full grown at one year of age.

The ear tag, she explained, helps track Coco from 900 other cows at the Cal-Denier Dairy of Galt. On the dairy, the collar around her neck tracks how much food she is consuming on any given day.

"It has a sensor and a microphone in it and it tracks the movement of her throat so we know she's staying healthy by how much she's eating. Right now in a single day, Coco can eat about 50 pounds of food a day and she can also drink about 30 gallons of water a day. She's eating and drinking a lot but that's part of her job. When she eats when she needs to that means she's making delicious and nutritious milk."

Coco likes to eat alfalfa grass, which is sweet, as well as pineapples, broccoli, carrots, cauliflower, bell peppers, onions, celery, watermelon and mangos. McLaughlin said a cow uses its tongue much like a hand to grab food.

"Cows take their food and they chew it in the back of their mouth because that is where all of their teeth are. Cows do not have any top front teeth. She has bottom front teeth and a full set of molars in the back."

She explained that a cow chews food from side to side.

When students were asked how many stomachs a cow has, most guessed four. McLaughlin explained that the food goes into a large stomach with four chambers.

"Each pocket helps her digest her food," she said. The first two chambers are connected where food is broken down. The food is sent back to the mouth where the cow chews its cud. That load moves through all four pockets before going to the stomach.

"Believe it or not, we have a lot of the same body parts that a cow does," explained McLaughlin. She noted how cow's hooves are made from the same type of material as the human fingernail. They grow but not at the same rate. Hooves have to be trimmed once every two months.

Because cows obviously don't have arms and hands like people, the tail is used to swat flies away from the animal.

She explained other parts, like 13 ribs on each side, and the process that cows use to process food through a single stomach that has four pockets.

The bump on a cow's head is different from people is called the pole.

"Both the males and females both grow horns. At four years old, if her horns were to grow, they could potentially be about six inches on either side. The older she gets, the more her horns will continue to grow. Because Coco is a part of a 900-cow dairy, the dairymen prevent horns from growing for safety reasons.

McLaughlin injected humor along the way, asking students to mimic how a cow is milked.

"No, you misunderstood me - I said show me how to milk a cow, don't teach me how to drive a car."

A spokesperson for the Dairy Council of California, said that the mobile classroom is important "as children become more removed from the path our food and beverages take from the farm to the table."

The Dairy Council of California was established in 1919, and provides nutrition education and promotes the benefits and uses of milk and milk products, with a focus on fostering a well-balanced diet among all the food groups. McLaughlin said the council was the first farm to classroom program in the United States. Six different units serve around 60,000 to 100,000 students across California each year. "We do a school per day."