SYRACUSE, NY — Steve Palladino was as proud as any papa after the birth of four young ones, even if they happen to be dairy calves.
The four calves, including just one bull, were born on the morning of Aug. 26 at the Cow Birthing Center, a “live” exhibit at the New York State Fair. Palladino brought six of his cows from Walnut Ridge Dairy Farm in Lansing, NY, and all six had given birth at that point, midway through the 12-day fair.
The cow birthing center made its debut in 2013 as a way for the dairy industry to forge a closer connection to the public, and it’s proven to be successful. Palladino, one of 40 volunteers from Cayuga County, was extremely pleased by the response.
“I did it last year, too,” he said. “Sure, I had concerns, but it’s a benefit for the dairy farmers in general and there’s been an overwhelming response from the public. I wouldn’t hesitate to do it again.”
The idea for the birthing center started with the New York Animal Agriculture Coalition (NYAAC) and a group of farmers from Cayuga Marketing. Last year, 30 calves arrived during the fair.
“We had six farms last year and five more this year,” said Palladino, who is a partner and co-owner of Walnut Ridge corporate farm. The birthing center, however, does have potential disadvantages.
“There is extra stress on the cows whenever you travel,” he said. “When you bring the cows out in public you worry about the possibility of disease, and you don’t know how the public will react. Those are the three biggest risks. But last year was very positive.”
Palladino did have some anxious moments this time. On Aug 25, one of his cows was struggling with the birth and veterinary help was summoned. Three vets, two of whom are on duty at the fair around the clock, plus a fourth-year student from the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine, needed to perform a Caesarian section. Unfortunately, the calf was stillborn.
As Judi Whittaker, a dairy farmer and birthing center volunteer from Whitney Point observed, “We had 700 people watching.” It included a majority watching the live broadcast via a webcam.
“It was a hot day. People were sitting on the floor watching, but they were quiet and respectful throughout the surgery,” she said. “They asked us questions and we explained it.”
Palladino added, “The C-section was scary for me, but it was best for the cow. The people were amazing. They sat here for four hours and watched the surgery from start to finish. People thanked us for not hiding the reality of what happens on a farm.”
The birthing center expanded to a larger tent this year to offer greater seating, as well as large screen TVs for improved visibility. The cows lounge on rubber mattresses in large indoor pens filled with hay and with large overhead fans while the calves are housed in outdoor hutches.
No vacation for milk inspectors at the fair
Howard Meyer took a highly-circuitous route to get into the dairy business. Born and raised in Brooklyn, NY, he jokingly admitted that as a child he didn’t know one end of a cow from the other.
Meyer, 49, is now a dairy product specialist for the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets’ Division of Milk Control and is in position to dispense advice to dairy farmers.
Meyer, who lives on Long Island, spent 12 days, working at the 169th annual New York State Fair as an inspector at the Rainbow Milk Bar. He worked alongside a team of other inspectors endlessly monitoring the milk served to tens of thousands of daily visitors.
“We ensure that the milk brought here meets (standards for) conformity and safety,” he explained as he took a break from inspecting the milk tanks inside the Dairy Products Building. The inspection process starts at Byrne Dairy headquarters in Syracuse, he explained.
“The milk is brought directly from the farms to Byrne Dairy. An inspector goes to Byrne Dairy and literally watches to make sure the tankers are cleaned and sanitized and the milk is pasteurized.”
The milk is trucked to the fairgrounds and pumped into five holding tanks that are replenished up to twice a day. There are two 300-gallon tanks each for white and chocolate milk and an additional 1,000-gallon tank of chocolate, the fairgoers’ overwhelming favorite, he noted.
Some inspectors start working at 3:30 a.m., while others come in at 5:30 a.m. and work until 3:30 p.m. Then another shift begins.
From his perch on a balcony over the bar, Meyer takes time throughout the day to observe the milk drinkers below. For a mere 25 cents, patrons can buy a ticket for a cup of fresh milk, which is served by youthful 4-H volunteers.
As a child, Meyer said he was enrolled in the “Fresh Air” program, in which children from the big cities are invited to spend part of the summer with families upstate, often in rural areas. He recalled it was his first exposure to dairy farms.
In 1982, a desire to learn about his family heritage prompted him to move to Israel. He joined a kibbutz and lived communally with 40 families. Meyer got a job in the dining hall, preparing the fruits and vegetables raised on the land.
One day, a friend asked for his help rounding up the cows in the pasture. Meyer committed to spending the next 11 years working on the kibbutz’s dairy farm. When he returned home, he decided to make his living in agriculture. He enrolled in ag education at Farmingdale Community College on Long Island.
He later found a job with the Dairy Herd Improvement Association, which provides support to farmers on issues with milk quality, cow reproduction and birthing. Meyer has worked with the Milk Control Division for six years. He is one of 40 to 45 dairy specialists in New York State whose job is to inspect milk products, including butter and ice cream, at their source on the farms, and to issue licenses to milk producers.
Perhaps it harkens back to his childhood, but Meyer enjoys an opportunity to spend time upstate for a few golden weeks each summer. Unfortunately, he said, too few residents downstate are aware of the state’s agricultural heritage.
“There are few farms below Westchester County,” he said. “Even so, many people are surprised to hear that there is a state fair in Syracuse. Dairy is such an important industry in this state and we’re the third largest milk producer overall in the nation.”