sheila sobchik

There is a chill in the air as dairy science senior Aimee Trout pulls her car into the dimly lit parking lot. She arrives at the dairy sporting a pair of fluffy slippers, which she trades for a pair of tall, rubber boots.

It is 5:45 a.m.

Of the five students working this morning, Trout is the only one whose parents do not work in the dairy industry. Trout has wanted to work with cattle since she was in elementary school.

Trout starts up the Gator, a small motorized vehicle, and heads to the barn. She keeps the headlights on to illuminate the blackness. She seems to effortlessly load five 50 pound bags of grain into the Gator. Then, Trout drives to the calf room where she unloads the grain. She mixes powdered milk, grain and water in foaming buckets.

Trout loads the buckets, bottles and nipples into the Gator. She pulls up to the maternity box stalls on the way to the nursery. Pregnant mothers close to delivery are provided a safe haven, away from the rest of the herd.

A shaky Jersey is bending her large head down towards a small, dark bundle of fur.

“Oh no, we have a baby,” Trout exclaims. “It’s a boy. Hi Baby. Good mama.”

The new-born calf is brown, wet and shivering. His mother is gently licking his sticky coat clean. He was born just a few hours earlier.

“George, George we have a baby,” Trout yells to one of the herdsman who have begun working around the dairy.

Senior George Eleftheriou joins Trout at the maternity stalls. He gently picks up the calf and moves her to a clean pen layered with soft, sweet-smelling hay while Trout patiently herds the mother in with her calf and then hurries back to the barn to get vaccines.

For the past three years, Eleftheriou has studied animal husbandry and dairy science at Cal Poly. After graduation he plans to return to his home in Cyprus.

“My family has been in the milk processing business for 30 years,” Eleftheriou says. “They have had their own dairy since 2002.”

Eleftheriou gives the mother a shot of hormones to help her recover from the recent delivery. He rubs his hands down her soft belly.

Trout returns from the barn. She gives the calf an oral and a nasal vaccine while softly stroking his wobbly head. The newborn stares up at Trout with huge walnut colored eyes. Trout says her goodbyes, climbs into the Gator and heads for the nursery.

Impatiently, the young calves moo at the sight of their surrogate mother.

“Hi babies,” Trout says as she bends down and kisses the one they call Angel.

She fills their six-pint bottles with foaming milk and attaches the black-rubber nipples. Most calves are fed a bottle twice a day. A few calves moo for their bottles, but receive grain instead.

“They only get milk in the afternoons,” Trout says. “They don’t like you when you wean them.”

The sun is beginning to rise now behind the hills that flank the dairy.

“My roommate and I fell in love with a baby bull this summer, but they won’t let us keep him here at the dairy,” Trout says. “We named him Rupert.”

Though the campus keeps three or four bulls for breeding, most are sold by the time they are four months old. They only keep those with the best genetics.

“Rupert is really stupid,” Trout says. “He couldn’t suck a bottle right at first. He would grab it sideways and it would all squirt out. We love him.”

Back at the milking parlor, Rector has finished milking the last of the four herds, a mixture of Jersey and Holstein cows.

It’s 8:15 a.m., Rector pulls off her boots, returns them to the trunk of her car and heads back to Cheda Ranch where she will shower and change before she attends her first class of the day, introduction to art at 10 a.m.

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