Crystal and Gary Dell’s dairy operation, MD-Delight Dairy, will be featured on the next episode of Maryland Public Television’s agricultural program, “Maryland Farm and Harvest.”
The show, now in its sixth season, visited the Dells’ dairy in January 2018 for an episode that aired last season that walked viewers through the process of raising a cow — from calf, to heifer to producing dairy cow.
This year’s episode featuring the Dells — Episode 609, which airs Tuesday, Jan. 8, at 7 p.m. — focuses on animal births on farms. “Maryland Farm and Harvest” repeats at 11:30 p.m. on Thursdays and 6 a.m. on Sundays on the network’s primary channel, and at 7:30 p.m. Fridays on MPT2.
Episode 609 will show viewers the challenges of birthing animals of all kinds.
“We wanted to explore the very beginnings of life on farm and what goes into that,” said Sarah Sampson, who produces the public television station’s most popular series.
First, a farmer must recognize the signs of a cow that’s about to give birth.
“Their temperament is different,” Dell said. Often the mothers will eat less immediately before giving birth and “they want to be by themselves.”
Usually, she explained, calves come out of the birth canal with their front legs first. If the vet or farmer notices otherwise, they have to enter their arm into the birth canal in order to adjust the position of the calf so that it is born without harming itself or the mother.
Very rarely is a cesarean section necessary, but it does happen, Dell said. “Most of the time the veterinarian can get (their) arm in the cow’s birth canal and get the calf situated so that it comes out properly.”
For the roughly 80 percent of births that occur naturally, without issue, the mother will stand up and clean the calf within moments of it being born, she added. And, usually, within the next hour the newborn will be nursing.
Sampson said that during filming she learned about the cow jack, a piece of equipment that allows a farmer to support an exhausted cow during birth.
“I had never seen anything like it,” Sampson said of the device. “It’s something that’s fairly common that dairy farmers use because” the animals are massive.
“The farm wasn’t featured then, but they said they’d like to come back,” Dell said. “And then they decided to come back last year and spent about two days here. We got the opportunity to share what we do.”
Dairy farming is hard work. The cows must be milked twice a day — Dell milks hers at 4 a.m. and 3 p.m. every day.
She’s done it her entire life, having grown up on her family’s dairy in Frederick County. She and her husband have been managing the Westminster farm owned by Gary Dell’s family for 10 years, Dell said.
“We’re just very fortunate to be able to live on a farm with Gary’s family, and everybody work together and raise our kids,” she said. “And hopefully someday they’ll choose a path similar to ours.”
Dell sees participating in “Maryland Farm and Harvest” as a way to preserve the agricultural way of life, she said.
It’s pricey to feed cattle, and depleted milk prices are making it more and more difficult for dairy operations to stay in business.
In Carroll County there were more than 700 dairy farms in the 1950s. Today there are approximately 30, a recent report from the county’s Long Term Advisory Council detailed. Education could help keep some of the remaining dairies alive, the council concluded.
“Maryland Public Television’s farming show is a great educational tool,” Dell said, and, even as a lifelong dairy farmer, she’s learned a lot about other farm operations.