Schrack Farms dairy operations continue to run smoothly
LOGANTON — There’s an entire world of its own existing in the barns and milking parlor at Schrack Farms in scenic Sugar Valley.
Twenty-six employees, two thirds of them part of the Schrack family, work long hours to ensure that the operations along West Valley Road run smoothly.
Schrack Farms was established before the American Revolution and has continued to grow since then.
Although they aren’t sure what their ancestors farmed nearly three centuries ago, Jim Harbach and his son Doug, attribute the farms growth in the dairy field to Doug’s grandfather Dan Schrack.
Dan built the farms first ever milk parlor in the 1950s and it has only grown since then.
“He was the main visionary for the farm. He had the innovative spirit,” Doug said.
Although the milk parlor Dan built isn’t used for the majority of the milking process today, it still has a purpose.
The parlor is located next to the farm’s office at 694 W. Valley Road where mother cows are first milked after giving birth.
Before making their way to the parlor, they spend time recuperating from giving birth in a pen just outside of the “maternity ward.”
“That pen is the cleanest place for the cows to give birth and it is monitored 24 hours a day,” Doug said.
The pregnant cows are separated in a barn just behind the “hospital” building between heifers — cows that haven’t had calves before — and experienced mothers.
“The older cows can be a little more bossy than the younger ones so we keep them separate,” Doug said.
As they get closer to their due date they’re placed in the maternity pen.
After giving birth they spend a few days in pens just outside the birthing area so they can be monitored for any health problems following the birth.
From there they are taken to the parlor to be milked where their colostrum levels are checked.
Colostrum is the first form of milk that is produced from the mammary glands after giving birth. It is extremely nutrient dense and contains high levels of proteins and antibodies that fight infections and bacteria and promote health and growth in animals.
This fluid is crucial for calves to survive. To ensure calves are getting the proper amount of colostrum after birth, they’re taken from their mothers and fed by the staff.
Doug stressed that the calves aren’t taken immediately. They have time to bond and the mother to clean them off before they’re taken to be fed.
Doug explained that in terms of feeding and caring for the calf, the experienced staff at Schrack has a better chance of keeping the baby alive.
“We feel we can do a better job of raising that calf,” he said.
After the calves are fed for the first time they’re taken to their own individual hutch for their first eight weeks. Females are taken to the hutches up the hill from the maternity ward and the males are kept near the front of the farm.
Males are sold to other farming agencies while the females are kept and raised as dairy cows as well, Doug said.
The calves are kept separate for this time period to prevent the spread of possible infection.
During those eight weeks the calves are more susceptible to infection and disease, Doug said.
While in the hutches the calves have access to solid food and water all day long and are given four quarts of milk twice a day.
As they approach eight weeks they begin to wean them from four quarts of milk a day to two quarts of milk before transitioning them completely to solid food.
Once they’ve grown enough — nearly doubling their weight — they’re transferred from the pens to the opposite side of the farm to the three barns near the milk parlor.
These barns have an open design with fans throughout to offer cool breezes during hot summer days and sprinklers set to periodically mist the cows.
Approximately 1,500 mature cows and 1,000 young stock are housed in the barns at Schracks and they produce about 1,275 gallons of milk daily.
The cows are milked three times a day in the morning, afternoon and evening with Doug’s uncle Kevin Schrack overseeing the operation.
“There’s an office near the parlor where he can keep track of everything,” Doug said.
Inside the parlor, a total of 32 cows — 16 in each row — can be milked at a time.
The milking process is more than just attaching the machine to the cow’s udders and pulling the milk into a large tank.
Farm hands must first ensure that the cow’s udders are as sanitized as possible by spraying and wiping them down with water and rags.
They also check each udder to ensure milk is being produced properly and the cow is prepared for the milking process before the milker is attached.
Data is collected from each machine and filtered into a data base that keeps track of how much milk a cow is producing.
“If issues arise we’ll be aware of it and we’ll work with our vet to discover what may be wrong,” Doug said. This could include temperature checks, listening to the lung and the stomach to discover what might be ailing the cow and how they can make her better.
While standing in the parlor, cows mill about the fenced in area near the milker as they wait to be milked. As soon as one group is done the other is quick to get into place to be milked as well.
“The cows do like to be milked. It can be uncomfortable for them if they are not milked on a regular basis,” Doug said.
Something unique the farm does is load milk into tanks as soon as they can instead of storing it in tankers on site.
“We chill the milk ourselves from 101 degree — the internal temperature of a cow — to 33 before it’s loaded into the trailer,” he said.
Schrack is one of few area farms that has three trucks and tanks to deliver their milk to processing plants throughout the state. As a member of the Dairy Farmers of America they only deliver milk to plants in Pennsylvania to keep the product local.
The farm delivers about 11 to 12 loads of milk a week to the plants that produce milk, cheese and other dairy products.
“Our main focus is dairy farming,” Doug said.
With the help of a dedicated staff Schrack Farms has been able to make a name for itself in the dairy industry, something they are extremely proud of.