Editor's note: Updated from original post in March 2018.
It's that time again! Soon we’ll be gaining daylight as we hit the first day of spring, on March 20, and climb toward the longest day of daylight in the year, June 21. Ahhhh, more DAYLIGHT!
Cows dig daylight saving because they need 14 to 16 hours of light each day. It's what they're used to in summertime. Dairy farmers go out of their way to make sure there is no disruption for cows as clocks spring forward when Daylight Saving Time returns Sunday, March 10, at 2 a.m.
Whether the clock moves backward or forward, any hour time shift throws me off schedule. The new routine takes me a bit of getting used to. Imagine what kind of an adjustment it must be for dairy farmers!
I talked about it with third-generation dairy farmer Natasha Sutherland, of Stein Farms in Le Roy, New York, as we headed into Winter 2017.
Via The Batavian. Richard Sutherland, left, Jerrod Stein, Natasha Sutherland, Nathan Stein, and back row, Ray Stein, Dale Stein. (Photos by Howard Owens.)
Cows Don’t Like Change Any More Than You Do
Dairy farmers try to keep things as consistent as possible for cows. Cows are creatures of habit and don't like change. Even an hour can throw them out of their comfort zone.
“The first few days, we don’t change their clock. We adjust the timing of what we do on the farm.” ~Natasha Sutherland
Milking Time, Making it Routine
3600 seconds. 60 minutes. One hour. It’s all the same thing. It doesn’t seem THAT long... unless you’re a cow. To them, it’s everything. Cows like routine. That’s why Natasha says the farm tries to gradually change the milking and feeding times for its 900 cows.
“Otherwise, you’re asking a cow to be milked an hour after she’s traditionally getting milked and she’s got 60 lbs of milk inside of her. She’s not very comfortable. She’s ready to go and looking at you like, ‘why aren’t you milking me now?’”
Instead of an hour in a single day, the cows’ schedule is altered in 30-minute increments over two days.
Brightening a Cow’s Day
As each day loses more daylight after June 21, the Stein Farms’ cows spend more time by electric candle light. Their barn is lit by LED lights and automated in terms of sunrise and sunset. “The whole lighting system literally simulates the sunrises still, just at around 5 a.m. for the cows.” Keeping cows in a comfortable summertime routine. Natasha says the lights are programmed to turn off around 11 pm, giving the cows their six hours of complete darkness that they are used to.
Lighting the Way Toward Energy Efficiency
While the simulated daylight makes cows comfortable, the LEDs make Stein Farms more energy efficient. Natasha says the farm is in the middle of a grant project to update 160 lighting fixtures on the farm. “They’re going to cut our energy cost by 20% a year, so we’re conserving more energy.”
Genesee County Chamber of Commerce honored Stein Farms with the 2016 Agricultural Business of the Year Award.
That’s right, friends, before you know it, it’ll be time to mess with the clocks yet again. In the meantime, let's focus on the 'here and now' and enjoy the march toward spring, and summer solstice... my personal favorite because it’s the longest day of the year.
What do you look forward to most in the springtime?
American Dairy Association North East is one of 16 state and regional promotion organizations working under the umbrella of the United Dairy Industry Association. It is the local affiliate of the National Dairy Council®, which has been conducting nutrition education and nutrition research programs since 1915. For more information, visit www.americandairy.com.