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By Wendy Gabrek
After years in the making, Canada now has an official A2A2 milk supplier – and the farm raising these special cows, producing one hundred per cent A2 milk, is located right here in our backyard, at Sheldon Creek Dairy at Haanview Farm.
When you buy milk from the grocery store, that milk is produced by A1 cows. This type of milk has only been consumed by humans for the past 150 years when the A2 A2 gene pool was modified by an A2 A1 bull. This milk can be hard to digest for some, and those with milk intolerance have been unable to consume the A1 milk proteins without stomach upset.
Until now, A2 milk has only been available in other parts of the world, including Australia, where dairy farmers began separating the A1 and A2 milk producing cows through genetic testing. This method has been replicated at Sheldon Creek Dairy in Loretto, and the result is undeniable – rich, creamy milk that is more tolerable for those with milk sensitivity.
Now years in the making, Sheldon Creek has erected a new barn, operated by robots, allowing cows to self-milk for relief and treats, while keeping the product separated into three categories – A1, A2 and unusable.
Upon their birth, Sheldon Creek Dairy cows are issued a transponder collar that tracks everything from the cow's name, to genetic heritage (Sheldon Creek has four cow families – M, A, P, and R), to how much milk they gave last and when. But most importantly whether the cow is A1 or A2 – and those lines don't cross.
The M cows, or ‘Maartge' at Sheldon Creek date back to the first cows on the farm, milked by hand, by the den Hann's grandfather, ‘Ad'.
Sheldon Creek representative, Marianne den Hann, says feedback received on their A2 milk indicates that people who have been unable to drink milk – some for more than 15 years – are now enjoying a glass with lunch and with cereal.
“Honestly, they're so excited,” said den Hann. “We get customers calling to tell us, ‘this milk is magic'.”
High in nutrients, thick and creamy, the Sheldon Creek A2 whole milk is available through their farm store, at local retailers, and soon through Sobey's. It is available in chocolate (as of this past weekend) and coffee flavour, as well as regular white. The cream of this clean tasting milk rises to the top, and it is sold in returnable retro-style glass bottles, made in Canada.
What produces great milk? Happy cows. That's why the den Hann's spent years, and millions of dollars, creating the new barn.
“We had a choice, expand the old barn or create a new barn,” Emily den Hann told The Times. “We were at capacity in the old space and didn't have room to milk more cows. So we decided to build the new barn because we're always learning about what makes cows happy, and we wanted to build a space that they'd enjoy.”
The new barn gives the den Hann's room to expand, and is well equipped. From the exterior it appears to have two levels, but the height of the barn allows sophisticated weather veins to monitor indoor temperature and weather conditions to make adjustments to curtaining.
“Cows like the temperature around five degrees Celsius,” den Hann said. “Our old barn was warm and cozy, but research has shown cows – who are big animals – like it cool.”
Food also makes the cows happy, and working closely with an animal nutritionist, the den Hann farm blend of hay, corn silage, and soybean pellets (all grown on site), is available to the cows 24/7, and tested for quality every week.
“Some cows like to get up in the middle of the night and eat, other cows might graze throughout the day,” said den Hann. “We want to make sure all of our cows get the same quality and mixture.”
Using a robot named Juno to pull the feed back closer to the animals every four hours (controlled by an iPad), the perfect food balance is always at the ready for these content cows.
Bedding is also important. The den Hanns use sand because it is clean (nothing can grow in it, therefore it is hygienic), forms to the cows body (important because cows do not necessarily sleep in the same stall always – it's their choice), and washes off easily (unlike hay or mud) when it comes to milking time. The den Hanns refer to sand as the “king of bedding”.
When is milking time? Well that's up to the cows. When they're ready, one-by-one, the cows proceed to the self-milking station where robots take over. The cow is identified by its transponder, and information about the cow is available on screen. Next, laser beams locate the cows teats and clean them, using a brush and water. Once clean, lasers locate the cow's teats once again, and latch on. The cow is milked based on how much it gave the last time, how long it took, and from which side of its udder. The computer also memorizes the teat coordinates for future reference.
The suction cups automatically detach when milk flow rates drop below thirty per cent, and the milk, gathered in a glass holding tank, is sent through lines into the A1, A2 or unusable tanks (unusable milk would be collected from a cow that has recently calved – mostly colostrum – or a cow that is on antibiotics). The milk is filtered and stored at 3.5º Celsius until it is bottled, on site, for sale.
The cows like to give milk three or four times a day, and are rewarded with a treat.
Some cows, referred to as “fetch cows” by the den Hanns, need to be taken to the milking station. They haven't quite got the routine down, and need to be fetched.
The cows also have a beauty station, called the ‘Loona Station' where they can self-brush. This removes excess hair from the animal and just feels good.
The cows are also separated based on age, and pregnancy status to keep them safe, and with cows experiencing similar circumstances such as pre- and post-labour and social hierarchy. Yes – there are “boss cows.”
All of the information collected from the cow's transponder helps the den Hann's to determine the ultimate happiness of their cows.
“When cows are happy, like a dog wagging its tail, they will ‘chew their cud' – or partially digested food in one of its ruminants. A happy cow chews the cud for 500 to 600 minutes a day. When their chewing goes below 300, we know somethings wrong and intervene early,” said den Hann.
Currently, the den Hann's have 75 cows, with room in their new modern barn for 120.
With a 20-year plan in place, the den Hann's have found a way to improve production, reduce labour costs and strains (they have cut labour costs in half with their robot helpers), and improve cow health.
Sheldon Creek Dairy Farm, located at 4316 RR#2 Loretto, is open to the public for tours each year starting in May by calling 705 434-0404 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org
The farm store is open daily from 10 a.m. – 6 p.m.
The 8th Annual Day on the Farm at Sheldon Creek Dairy takes place on June 3, from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. Meet the cows face to face, check out the farmers market, listen to live music, take part in a kids scavenger hunt, tour the new voluntary milking barn ($2 ticket) and much more.
For more information visit www.sheldoncreekdairy.ca
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