ND livestock specialist takes a moment to appreciate the wonder of dairy cows

DICKINSON, N.D. -- Cold and standing in the snow, the image of a cow keeping her calf warm after giving birth in less than ideal conditions flashed on the screen.

DICKINSON, N.D. -- Cold and standing in the snow, the image of a cow keeping her calf warm after giving birth in less than ideal conditions flashed on the screen.

"Sometimes we need to see and appreciate what we do because the animals we work with are amazing," says Jerry Stokka, North Dakota State University associate professor and extension livestock stewardship specialist in the animal sciences department, as about a dozen dairy producers watch a video of a cow giving birth during the Dairy Cow College on Jan. 29 at the Elks Lodge in Dickinson, N.D.

"You hear the cow talking to her calf. When you hear that sound and you know that they are bonding and it is a done deal. She'll take care of it and it makes you appreciate what you've seen."

Co-sponsored by the NDSU Extension and the Midwest Dairy Association, the Dairy Cow College graduates were few in number, maybe because the Peace Garden State's largest agricultural industry is not dairy, says Sherry Newell, director of communications for agricultural and dairy industry trade media.

"Often the size of the dairy industry in a state is linked to locations, land types and the infrastructure that is available for the industry," she says.


North Dakota produced 86 million pounds of milk from October to December, according to a report released Jan. 23 by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, National Agricultural Statistics Service and the Agricultural Statistics Board.

That was 4 percent more than during the same period in 2010. The number of cattle stayed steady at 18,000 cows during the time period.

Milk production nationwide from October to December was up .9 percent, topping out at 49 billion pounds of milk, according to the USDA.

The total number of cattle topped off at 9.2 million, which was a decrease of 17,000 cows from the same period in 2011.

But experiences, like watching a calf come into the world on the farm, are ones producers should appreciate, says Stokka, who raises beef cattle along with his brother.

"Agriculture is a culture," he says. "Agriculture is a unique type of culture that you cannot predict, but these livestock and the land are under our care and we're responsible for both."

As he flips to a slide with a calf warming up in his house bathtub after issues following its birth, Stokka says it bothers him when he hears people refer to what farmers do as "running factory farms."

"I felt responsible for that critter," he says, referring to the photo. "That calf was saved that night and is now a 4-year-old cow. I felt responsible that night it was born, not because of money, but because I believe that those of us in this industry truly care for our livestock. I know that I have a great respect for these cows and the way they take care of their calves, especially in the presence of predators."


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Jerry Messer, a Richardton, N.D., dairy farmer and chairman of the Midwest Dairy Association, says he thinks consumers want to know how farms operate and how their food is produced.

That makes Stokka's position a benefit for NDSU, says J.W. Schroeder, NDSU associate professor and extension dairy specialist with the department of animal sciences.

Schroeder says NDSU is the only university in the nation that has an animal stewardship specialist.

The position is quite an undertaking though, Stokka says. "I feel privileged to be in a position that is unlike anything else in the nation, but that also means it is a challenge," he says.

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