Zero miles. That’s how far dairy products travel from cow to customer on NC State’s campus. An on-campus processing plant churns out delicious Howling Cow dairy products ranging from ice cream to chocolate milk — all made possible by the Wolfpack’s own on-campus dairy herd.
Since local food has so many benefits (and doesn’t get more local than made on campus, for campus), we went behind the scenes at the NC State dairy farm to meet some of the personalities behind Howling Cow dairy products.
On NC State’s dairy farm off Lake Wheeler Road, the entire 170-cow herd is numbered but only a few are known by name to the person who knows them best: herd manager and NC State grad Ashley Robbins. Ashley, plus a team of six full-time employees and several part-time student employees, are responsible for keeping the Wolfpack’s dairy herd happy and healthy.
One among the Raleigh-born-and-bred herd is Frances, known for her spunk. This three-year-old boss of the bovine is always first in line, especially when it’s milking time.
“Cows like to be milked,” Ashley says. “They’re milked twice a day, and they know when it’s time. They start lining up at the gate.”
Around 7 am and 6 pm each day, Frances takes her place at the front of the line so that she’s first to mosey into the milking parlor, where she spends about seven minutes giving dozens of pounds of milk. She happily and quietly stands, “chewing her cud” (you remember from biology class that a cow has a four-compartment stomach, right?), which is a sign of relaxed and content cow.
As a Holstein cow (known by its black and white markings), Frances is capable of producing around 100 pounds of milk each day whereas Howling Cow’s Jersey breed (known by its brown coat) produces about 70 pounds daily.
Each cow has her own collar that helps Ashley monitor milk output; if it’s lower than normal, the cow might be ill or it could be a sign of a summer slump. Like humans, a cow finds summer heat a bit stressful, which reduces how much milk she produces. To keep the herd cool, the farm features access to shade, piles of cool sand perfect for a summer snooze and misting fans. Even though the herd has access to grass pastures year-round, many choose to keep cool under the shade of the farm’s largest barn.
One of those smart shade-seekers is Brittany, who is dairy’s diva. The reason for her mood swings is anybody’s guess. Could it be that she’s sick of Frances always being at the front of the herd, or maybe that her State Fair fame has gone to her head? Each October during the North Carolina State Fair, Howling Cow includes a few from its herd in the NC State dairy cow exhibit. So if you’ve ever milked a cow at the State Fair, you and Brittany may have already met.
As cool as Brittany and Frances are, the queen of cute at the dairy farm is Oklahoma, a whopping three weeks old at the time of this photo. She was named by a former student at NC State’s College of Veterinary Medicine, which provides weekly herd checks and veterinary services for the farm. For now, Oklahoma drinks milk (up to four half-gallon bottles per day) instead of producing it, but within a couple years she’ll join the Howling Cow herd as a maker of the local milk and ice cream enjoyed by the campus community.
Now that you know some of the personalities behind Howling Cow, look for NC State’s locally-produced dairy products in campus restaurants, at the State Fair or online.