June, the animatronic cow, helps educate people about the dairy industry
A couple years ago, the Western Dairy Association found a spokesperson of sorts to help teach about the dairy industry.
Her name is June, and she’s an animatronic cow who helps gather people of all ages to hear about the industry.
June doesn’t do the talking, although she has the capability, but can get the conversation started. That’s where Erin Barkey comes in.
Barkey is a retired dairy farmer from Windsor, Colo., who now travels with June to talk with people about the dairy industry. Barkey’s family owned a small dairy until 2011, a few years after Barkey’s husband died.
Barkley traveled with June to events across Colorado, plus two stops in Wyoming in 2017. A member of the agriculture world, and dairy in particular, makes her an asset to Western Dairy.
“It’s because of her passion for dairy farming and agriculture,” said Kristin Tucker, program manager for Western Dairy. “She loves working with the kids, but she’s also not afraid to talk about controversial subjects, to bring up a different viewpoint, and if someone has to walk away — those are usually our adults — or whether it’s to agree to disagree, she does that very well,”
One topic Barkey addresses is when someone talks about soy or alternatives as milk.
“My question back to them is: When did an almond and a soybean become a mammal? Because mammals are the only true ones that can give milk, that has the components of actual milk,” Barkey said.
It’s not a new issue to the industry, but Barkey gets closer to consumers than most. Barkey said she understands the need for alternatives; she has a granddaughter who has lactose intolerance. But Barkey also sees the need to bust the myth that milk and the alternatives are interchangeable. The nutrients are different.
But that’s only one topic of the industry Barkey “myth busts,” which is how she describes what she does.
Tucker said Barkey’s background in dairy makes her someone with more authority when she gives presentations.
“ I think it’s a little bit more believable,” Tucker said. “I can say the very same thing that she says, but I’m not a farmer. I’ve not lived on a dairy farm. I grew up on a farm, but not a dairy farm.”
Plus, Barkey has been giving lessons about the dairy industry for years. When her adult children were in school, Barkey said for special occasions, she would bring baby calves to their schools and talk to classes about the family’s dairy.
She was actually giving presentations at a former dairy, Cozy Cow, in northern Colorado when she was asked to do the same for Western Dairy.
She brings an energetic passion to her presentations, and finds the best way to help people relate it to something they do understand.
“I think that’s the biggest thrill — when I can make it relevant to their life and the light bulb moment that comes,” she said. But, first, Barkey needs an opening, and a life-sized Holstein is perfect for that.
The animatronic cow is just as big as a real dairy cow, but it takes away some of the intimidating factors a real cow would present to people who are not familiar with livestock.
Western Dairy uses June as a teaching tool, as well, and gives people a chance to milk her by hand.
The cow has a circulating pump, and water is put into June before events so people can try a hand at milking her. That is very popular with people of all ages and backgrounds. Kids and adults love the chance to try to milk a cow. And, for some adults, it’s a walk down memory lane.
Barkey said there was one woman she came across at a Farm Bureau meeting who wanted to try to milk June. She was in her 90s and grew up on a dairy farm, but always struggled with milking. She didn’t know if it was her or the cow. Then she milked June without a problem, and she realized it wasn’t her not knowing how to do it properly.
But one of the biggest things June brings, beside herself, is approachability.
“She helps make people more comfortable about the size of a cow,” Barkey said. A lot of people would be intimidated if she were a real-life cow standing there.”
Tucker said June also has the capability of talking, but Western Dairy hasn’t needed that. They have Barkey, but one day there could be a chance for June to talk to people about cows and dairies.
“Knowing me, I’m always going to be in ag, some way some how,” Barkey said. “If June should find another escort, I will probably volunteer in schools or stay in ag.” ❖
— Fox is a reporter for The Fence Post. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, (970) 392-4410 or on Twitter @FoxonaFarm.