The girls now have a top-of-the-line place to work, which makes them happy and brings in more revenue for the group.
The “girls” are the dairy cows who are filling the barns on the north side of the Missouri State Fairgrounds, and their office is the Gerken Dairy Center, which after some improvements is now classified as a Grade A dairy. That upgrade means the milk donated by dairy cow exhibitors during the fair can be sold at a higher price, which means more money for facility maintenance and payouts for exhibitors.
Amy Jo Estes, who is in her first year as the dairy superintendent, said the change “has been in the works a couple-three years.”
To get the existing dairy facility to meet Grade A standards, the ceiling had to be closed and exhaust fans had to be installed, among other improvements.
“It had to be a closed system,” Estes said. “We cannot take any outside milk. There are some producers who like to milk in their stalls and put the milk in cans. That milk can no longer be added to our milk supply; it is no longer Grade A.”
Exhibitors who are willing to donate their cows’ milk bring the animals to the dairy, located at the back of the Gerken Dairy Center, twice a day for milking. After use, the automatic milking fixtures are cleaned, rinsed and sanitized. There is a staff of four people in the milking facility who are constantly cleaning. Both Estes and Reagan Bluel, a dairy specialist, talked about working in the milking facility when they were exhibitors.
“It’s kind of a rite of passage,” Estes said. “It takes time to wash and rinse and sanitize and scrub – that’s crucial.”
The milk collected is kept cold on premises before being picked up by a distributor. All of the dairy exhibitors are Grade A producers, and as happens with their facilities back home, the state fair dairy is inspected by the state to ensure quality.
Also of note, Bluel said, is the quality of the animals.
“It’s not your average cow,” she said. “Everybody is bringing their best of the best so they expect the facility to be the best of the best to take care of their best girls.”
Duane Kaiser, of Monet, brought one of his cows in for milking Thursday evening. He sees the upgrades to the milking facility as beneficial to everyone.
“This is wonderful,” he said. “It’s so much better than the old facility. It’s unbelievable.”
Kaiser pointed to the large windows that allow fairgoers to watch the cows being milked.
“That tells dairy’s story,” he said. “That helps showcase agriculture and the dairy industry.”
State fair livestock superintendent David Dick said one of the goals was to display Missouri’s dairy industry at its best.
“We want the best possible facility, and we always had a good one, but a Grade A dairy is better for our exhibitors and lets us bring in more money to put toward premiums for them,” he said.
It also is a better way to connect fairgoers with family farms.
“There are demonstrations during the day, there is almost a constant opportunity to see what not everyone gets to see that anymore,” Dick said. “(Dairy farming) is more of the family-oriented side of agriculture, and that makes it more fun to watch.”
Bob Satnan is the Communications Director for the Sedalia School District 200.