Meet Blake Putman: CCE dairy educator

Blake Putman may be the newest and youngest member of Clinton Countys team at Cornell Cooperative Extension, but she has been gaining experience in her field almost all of her life. Blake, the new dairy educator, grew up on a dairy farm in Heuvelton in St. Lawrence County. The Putman family milked 70 cows on their family farm, and Blake was expected to work every bit as hard as her four brothers. My brothers and I rotated turns milking the cows before school, she said. Their parents encouraged the children to play sports and be involved in other extracurricular activities, and Blake was involved in a sport each season, but if there wasnt a game or a practice, she was expected to be in the barn. After graduating from high school, Blake headed south to Cornell University where she majored in animal science and was a member of the Cornell University Dairy Science Club, which traveled all over the country and into other countries as well, visiting dairy farms. In her clubs trip to Italy, she learned a little known fact about authentic Italian mozzarella cheese. She was shocked to learn it was made from water buffalo milk! She also spent one of her undergraduate semesters studying at an agricultural university in Sweden where she learned much about the European dairy industry. After graduating with her bachelors degree, Blake continued on at Cornell, pursuing her masters degree in agricultural education. My plan was to teach agriculture at a high school, she said. This job is close to that. It is similar, but very different because instead of educating youth, my main focus and audience is adult farmers. Blake began her job this August, just two months after finishing her masters degree. Her job as CCEs dairy educator is an important one to the North Country, as dairy farming is a big business in our area. New York is third in the nation for milk production, number of dairy cows and total cheese production, with the exception of cottage cheese. New York is the first in the nation for cottage cheese production. Clinton County is in the top 100 counties nationwide for milk production, and produced 340 million pounds of milk in 2003. Eighty percent of agricultural receipts in Clinton County come from dairy. Clinton County is home to 160 dairy farms and three of these are among the top five producing dairy farms in our state. These farms Remillard Farms, Adirondack Farm and Miner Institute Farm each have herds of more than 300 cows. Around 18,970 milk cows reside in our county and their average production is 18,400 pounds of milk per cow per year. The average milk production in our county is the highest of all six counties in northern New York. This average has been on the climb due to the progressive management skills of our area farmers. In the past 10 years, Clinton County dairy farmers have increased this average by 21 percent. One of Blakes goals is to continue that progress. She hopes to help farmers increase the average production per cow per year by 1,000 more pounds within the next three years. Id also like to increase the Cornell partnership with our local farmers, she said. Another one of her goals is to better connect communities to local agriculture and increase agricultural awareness. She desires to increase the positive image of agriculture in our area, especially to those who have become disconnected from agriculture. As part of this goal, she is working to promote agriculture awareness in area youth by collaborating with Alexi King, Clinton County CCEs youth educator, and an Essex County CCE educator, to develop an agriculture career day. The event will be held at the Miner Institute Farm sometime in March. Blakes days are typically busy, but there are no typical days on her job. About one-third of her time is spent on farm visits or attending statewide conferences to learn more about what is going on in the dairy industry. The rest of the time she is in her office which is adorned with pictures of dairy cows and a got milk? poster. A large inflatable Holstein cow sits on top of a filing cabinet eavesdropping as Blake spends time on the phone networking. Blake also spends many hours at her computer, networking via e-mail and writing articles for her monthly newsletter Clinton County Ag News, which she sends out to over 450 agriculture industries and farms. The newsletter is one of her educational tools and always includes the column Ask Nikki, in which Blake, under the alias of Nikki the Cow, answers a dairy farm related question. Novembers question was about barn ventilation during winter months. Nikki explained that because a full-grown cow exhales three to five gallons of water in water vapor daily, ventilation is important, even in cold weather. Blakes newsletter also informs readers of upcoming educational events, many of them to be held by Blake at the Clinton County CCE or at area farms, while some, like state conferences, are out of the area. Novembers issue included information on QuickBooks for your Farm, Taxes and Transfers for Farm Business Managers, Managing for Success Time for a Change, Organic Dairy Discussion, Utilizing the Cornell Referral Hospital for Treatment and Care of Your Cows and Calves, NYS Economic Outlook Conference, and Cornell Small Business and Farm One Day Income Tax School. Blake is finding her new job at CCE an enjoyable one. What does she find most enjoyable? I think it is the fact that both my interests, education and agriculture, are met in my job, she said. I am involved in both of these every day. For parents who are looking for a fun way to increase your childrens agricultural knowledge, Blake recommends checking out aged.ces.uga.edu, where there are some fun educational computer games. For those who would like to ask her a dairy-related question or would like to receive her monthly newsletter, you can contact her at 561-7450, or via e-mail at blp26@cornell.edu .

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