Cows Accorded Tender Care By Mindi Dairy Personnel
The Panama Canal Review:  Vol. I, No. 2 - August 4, 1950

If cleanliness is next to godliness, as the old proverb says, all the cows at Mindi Dairy are slated for heavenly pastures when they die. Without taking the comparison further, it can be fairly stated that no debutante is more carefully scrubbed and groomed for her round of the night spots than Mrs. Moo at Mindi Dairy when she is ready on her twice-a-day schedule to furnish you with the bottle of milk you sleepily take in from the back porch the next morning.

Not only has bossy been thoroughly scrubbed from head to foot and horns to switching tail, but her milk manufacturing parts have been sterilized with chlorine solution and her attendants, milker and feeder, have bathed and changed their clothes to attend her.   Even before she enters the milking barn Mrs. Moo has been given a thorough and expert inspection to see that she feels completely up to snuff.

Such tender care must be deserved and Dr. C.C. Clay, Manager of Mindi Dairy Farm, says it is.

To his way of thinking, the manufacture of a bottle of milk is no less a delicate and painstaking job than the making of a fine watch.  The process is different and the manufacturing machine appears clumsier but only a fine craftsman, he says, can make you a precision timepiece or deliver a bottle of fresh milk to your door every morning which is free of impurities and rich in butter fat and food value.

A Commissary Unit

Mindi Dairy, one of the many and diversified units of the Commissary Division, with its present cattle population of 1,600 Holsteins, Guernseys, Jerseys, and Brown Swiss, has a proud 33-year record.  Presently, it supplies more than a half million gallons of milk, enough for every Canal Zone man, woman, and child to have ten gallons a year.

The importance of this ready supply of fresh, pure milk was made highly apparent during World War II when the supply lines to the Isthmus were almost severed by submarine warfare.  During the precarious four-year period when ships were needed for something other than transporting cows and milk to the Isthmus, infants, hospital patients and others needing fresh milk for health purposes were assured of a steady supply at uniform prices even though the supply was not then enough to meet the demand of the greatly increased Zone population.

The dairying industry in the Canal Zone has a much longer history than that at Mindi.   From the beginning of the Canal construction period in 1904, a herd of cattle was maintained by Ancon (now Gorgas) Hospital on the slopes of Ancon Hill.  The pasture extended from where the Governor's house now stands to San Juan Place and between what is now Gorgas Road and Ancon Boulevard.  The only remaining evidence of this dairy farm is a huge concrete watering tank near the intersection of Ancon Boulevard and Cascadas Road.

This herd was kept solely to supply hospital needs and was moved to Corozal after a few years.  The Corozal dairy farm was abandoned not long after Mindi Dairy was established in 1917 near the old Mindi Dock with a herd of about 100 Colombian cattle.   The farm was moved to its present site the following year and the herd was increased to about 2,000 Colombian cattle and 200 registered cattle imported from Michigan.

Years of Experience

By many years of experience in handling pure bred cattle in the tropics, the herd has been gradually evolved to its present size without the necessity of cross breeding with native cattle which produce less milk but have more stamina in withstanding the tropical heat and rains. Dr. Clay says there is little difference in the health of the various breeds in the health of the various breeds in the tropics and none of the pure breds withstand the extreme heat and excessive rain too well.  Mindi Dairy stocks more Holsteins because of the high volume of milk produced. The present census shows 864 Holsteins, 141 Guernseys, 30 Jerseys, and 28 Brown Swiss among the milk producers.  The Brown Swiss have only recently been stocked at the farm but they are already favorites with Dr. Clay who says they are high producers of fine quality milk.  They are comparable in size to the Holsteins and Guernseys.  Jerseys, long a favorite among dairymen in the United States, produce less volume but milk of high butter fat content.

The extra care Dr. Clay and his assistants give to cleanliness of the cows, the barns, personnel assigned to milking and utensils used at the dairy shows in the revealing figures on bacteria count of Mindi Dairy milk. During the past year Board of Health Laboratory reports showed an annual average bacteria count of 22,000 per cubic centimeter of raw milk and 1,500 bacteria count per cubic centimeter of pasteurized milk from Mindi. Minimum standards set by the United States Public Health Service are 200,000 bacteria count for Grade A raw milk and 30,000 for pasteurized milk.  The Health Department demands minimum requirements of 500,000 and 50,000 for Grade A raw and pasteurized milk.   Both agencies call for not less than 3.25 percent butter fat content and Mindi Dairy milk more than meets this standard with an annual average past year of 3.6 percent.

Solicitous Care Given

The solicitous care which the cows receive does not begin and end in the milking barn.   It starts when a cow or calf is first listed in the cattle census and does not end until they are dropped from the rolls.  An individual history and record of every cow, bull, and calf is kept which would do justice to the personnel records of a Government agency. When a calf is born at the farm, which occurs about ten times every week, it is given a metal check, a system long since abandoned by the Canal for its paid employees.  Meanwhile, and index card is prepared showing the calf's genealogy, sex, breed, weight, and any other data of importance. This begins a running record which continues throughout the animal's stay on the farm.

Napier grass, brought to the Canal Zone from Africa about 22 years ago, forms a staple item of diet for Mindi cows, and each cow eats about 25 pounds a day.  The local grass, however, merely supplements the basic diet which consists of feeds procured in the United States or other world markets and shipped to the Isthmus at full commercial transportation rates which are an important factor in keeping production costs high in relation to those in the States.  These feeds include alfalfa hay, corn meal, hominy feed, malt sprouts, salt, bone meal, ground oats, mineral concentrates, soybean meal, wheat bran, wheat middlings, glutten meal and feed, and linseed meal.  This impressive menu is topped off with molasses and brewers grain, bought locally, as a kind of dessert, and the favorite part of the meal.

Imported Feed High

Illustrating the costs involved in importing feed, alfalfa hay, of which 1,773 tons were purchased last year, cost an average of $24.50 a ton in the United States.  Freight costs were greater than the value of the hay, with the result that the landed cost on the Isthmus was from $51.00 to $54.00 a ton.

Like most men of long experience in handling animals, the Manager of Mindi Dairy has a quiet and kindly air about him.  He moves without haste and speaks in modulated tones.  He thinks kindly of the animals and requires the men on the farm to treat them so.  They are not permitted to strike or frighten the cows at any time and non-violent methods are used to quiet a frightened or unruly cow.  This pays good dividends in milk for, despite their placid appearance, many cows are high-strung and particularly nervous at milking hour.

Dr. Clay had several years experience in veterinary practice and dairying in his home state of Iowa before joining the Canal service in 1924.  All of his service has been at Mindi Dairy and he became Manager of the farm four years ago after the retirement of Dr. T.L. Casserly.

Dr. Clay's chief assistants are Dr. P.H. Dowell, graduate veterinarian, Frank Fynan, Foreman of the farm, and Charles Thompson, Night Foreman.  In all, Mindi Dairy provides employment for about 150 men, all but four of whom are local-rate employees.

May 23, 2000

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