Coco, a 1,300-pound bovine from Galt, was introduced to Whitmore Charter Elementary School students on Wednesday morning as a representative of the 1.7 million dairy cows producing milk every day in California.
“Coco follows me around like a big giant puppy dog,” said Kimberlee McLaughlin before she raised the rolling door on the Mobile Dairy Classroom trailer brought to the site by the Dairy Council of California. “She’s a very nice cow.”
A chorus of “Whoa-a-a-a-as!” came from the youngsters seated on the blacktop.
The cow was stretching, looked at the kids as it’s done hundreds of times, and went back to eating.
McLaughlin, a Fresno State University graduate, stood in front of the trailer and explained that a cow can only give milk because she has calved before. Coco, she said, produces nine gallons of milk each day.
Students learned that milk is used for the production of cheese, yogurt, butter, cream cheese, sour cream, whipped cream, ice cream and cottage cheese.
She demonstrated how milk comes from a cow by reaching under the six-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.
“Did you guys just scream at milk?” replied McLaughlin, appearing to be stunned. “You’re afraid of milk?!”
Students were shown a milking claw, which allows a cow to be milked by machine rather than by hand like 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. The sensor and a microphone tracks the movement of the cow’s throat to measure her food and water intake. She explained Coco can eat about 50 pounds of food and 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 enjoys eat alfalfa grass, which is sweet, but her favorite is pineapple trimmings along with strawberries, watermelon rind, carrots, broccoli and cauliflower.
“What the heck is cauliflower?” one student asked outloud, which caused McLaughlin to chuckle.
“When she eats those fruits and vegetables, boys and girls, that helps her keep her body healthy. And when Coco eats healthy, she takes care of her body. That means she’s going to make delicious milk.”
When the cow started to convulse slightly, students seemed concerned but McLaughlin explained that “She coughs like we do.”
McLaughlin said a cow uses its tongue much like a hand to grab food.
“Does she have hands and arms like we do? No, so she gets to reach down her head, she sticks out her tongue, she grabs a piece of food and brings it inside her mouth and chew it. But she doesn’t chew like we do. We chew our food up and down; they chew their food from side to side. She grinds her food from side to side.”
Cows do not have any top front teeth but only bottom front teeth and a full set of molars in the back.
McLaughlin explained that the food goes into a “very large stomach” with four different pockets.
“Each different pocket helps her digest her food,” she explained. 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.
She explained that a cow’s tail serves as a “giant flyswatter” because cows obviously don’t have arms and hands to get rid of the pests.
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 large dairy, the owners prevent horns from growing for safety reasons.
To prepare students for the possibility of the cow urinating or pooping in front of them, she told them to applaud rather than handle it in immature ways.
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."