We really wanted to see more sites and activities that had to do with dairy farming and cheese-making in the region around Salers. We read somewhere about two farms where we could see the milking process. The first one was a bust — nobody was there. The second, a farm run by the Rodde family an hour east of Salers, near the village called Cheylade, was the jackpot. We were able to walk out into a cow pasture and watch Jean-Pierre Rodde and his crew milking his Salers cows.
Salers cows won't give milk unless their calves are present. So the cows and calves are in the pasture together. A calf is let out of a pen they're kept in, finds his mother, and starts suckling. That starts the milk-giving. The calf is tied to one of its mother's front legs and the milking machine, powered by a tractor, is strapped on and takes over. The milking takes a while, because there are a lot of cows (see the slideshow above) and they aren't all milked simultaneously. This was the afternoon milking. There's also one early in the morning. Cheese is therefore made twice a day, morning and evening. It was raining and we had to step carefully to avoid cow patties, which were slippery and mucky.
In a document in French that I found here there's a passage (on page 6) that describes the Roddes' family business, which does both meat and milk/cheese production. The article is about a group's visit to the farm one afternoon in 2012. Here's my translation:
In the afternoon, [our] group visited Mr. Rodde's farm in Cheylade (15). Rodde uses a very traditional system (called “Salers Milking”) and processes the milk into Cantal-type cheese. His is one of the last farms to use this method —in fact, fewer than 10 farms continue the practice — which involves milking by machine out in the pasture with “priming” done by the suckling calf. The calf is then tied to one of its mothers’ front legs so that the cowherd can attach the milking machine and continue the process.
Mr. Rodde's farm has 130 hectares [320 acres] of pastureland, [with] 115 Salers cows milked in winter and 85 during the summer season. The whole herd is made up of purebred Salers stock. The heifers calve in December; the cows calve in January or February. Grass-fed calves are held aside in order to be marketed in mid-winter. The cows’ feed is based on fresh grass in summer and dry hay in winter. Four people work on the farm, Mr. and Mrs. Rodde, their son, and one employee.
The milk is processed on the farm, as is the aging of the young cheeses [called tommes]. Production reaches 250 wheels of [Cantal] cheese per year, each weighing around 40 kilograms [nearly 90 lbs.] when ripe and requiring 450 liters [about 120 U.S. gallons) of milk for their production. The cheese is sold at the farm but also in the Paris area.
The sustainability of this method of milking is greatly endangered because of the costs and working conditions it requires. Those disadvantages explain the steep decline of this traditional system designed for use with the Salers breed of cattle. A similar method used to be practiced in the Aubrac [...region to the south] but it has now been abandoned.