My family and I were recently invited to tour Bakerview EcoDairy in Abbotsford. I am always interested in learning more about where my food comes from, so I jumped at the chance.
The EcoDairy is a demonstration farm, and its purpose is to teach the public about dairy farming. You can visit 7 days a week, all year round. A tour includes a short animated video about the farm, displays explaining the way that the dairy runs in the learning centre, a walk through the barn and a stop in the glass-windowed milking gallery. We learned a lot about cows, dairy farms and the EcoDairy. For instance, did you know that the average dairy cow produces around 30L of milk a day? And one cow licked me, so that was fun, if a touch gooey.
Bill Vanderkooi, who created the EcoDairy, has a background in animal science, specializing in dairy cattle nutrition and physiology. He grew up on a dairy farm, which is currently owned by his brother. When he graduated, he wanted to use his knowledge to develop innovative nutritional solutions for dairy farmers. In the process, he created Vitala milk, which contains DHA Omega-3 and CLA. Today, the EcoDairy is home to the Vitala cows, and also the hens that lay Vitala eggs.
The cows live in an ‘indoor pasture’. It is a large open space, with big windows, lots of light, rubber floors and special ‘cow mattresses’. The 40 or so animals that are currently there are free to roam around the space as they please. There are temperature and humidity controls, and the cows have access to an automatic brush and a robotic milker, so they set their own eating, sleeping, grooming and milking schedule. Each cow has a transponder so that they can track her milking, but Bill told me that most cows choose to be milked 2-3 times a day. We saw a line-up at the milker while we were there.
The robotic milker is quite the thing. There is grain in the milking booth, which gives the cows an incentive to come inside. The machine sterilizes the cow’s udders, and then starts milking. While cows are being milked, the machine monitors their output specifically, checking flow rate, volume, temperature and white cell levels. This lets them know if a cow is sick, in which case her milk is dumped and she’s attended to. They are able to collect a lot more information on each individual cow and the quality of her milk than a traditional operation would be able to.
In order to keep the quantity and quality of the milk consistent, the cows are kept inside while they are producing milk. While the barn was very clean and lovely, it kind of upended my traditional view of what a dairy farm looks like. I expected to see a lot of cows out roaming pastures, especially in July. But the Vitala cows live in temperature-controlled comfort all year round.
The barn that the cows spend their days in was built to be as environmentally friendly as possible. They used recycled tires in the rubber floor and low-energy environmental controls and lighting. They have a green roof on one of their buildings, and collect rainwater off another. They used pine beetle timber, and they are almost finished building an anaerobic digester. The digester will convert the cows’ waste into energy for the dairy and high-nutrient fertilizer.
The EcoDairy is also home to the Nutrifoods Market, which sells a variety of local products, including Vitala milk and Fraser Valley cheeses. They also have a deli and a gorgeous patio off the back where you can eat your food. There are some other fun touches for the kids, too. There’s a petting zoo, ice cream and goats on the green roof. My 5-year-old, especially, really enjoyed herself.
The Bakerview EcoDairy is located on Sumas Way in Abbotsford, about 1 block South of Highway 1. If you enjoy agri-tourism, you can continue on to the other stops on the Abbotsford Circle Farm Tour when you visit. There are a lot of farms to check out in Abbotsford, and there’s a lot of great food and wine to sample in the process.
This post was written by Amber Strocel, who contributes to TheV3H.com, a blog that highlights news and events in and around Port Moody and the Tri-Cities. You can also catch up with Amber’s musings on life and parenting at Strocel.com.