Dairy Barn Home to the Lush Life

As Milk Sells for a Premium

Pedicures, air-conditioned living quarters, special bedding . . . These are some of the perks cows are enjoying these days, thanks to rising milk prices that are making healthy dairy cows increasingly valuable.

A year ago a Holstein dairy cow cost about $1,600, according to Eric Sonnek, a University of Minnesota technical adviser for livestock based in St. Cloud. Today it would fetch as much as $2,300.

"There are just not near as many dairy farmers around; they're getting older and retiring and not being replaced, so there are not as many cows out there and the prices go up," he said.

Raw milk hit a record high of more than $20 per 100 pounds earlier this year, and is currently at about $17 per 100 pounds. That makes it more worthwhile for farmers to go the extra mile to make sure their cows are healthy and at the top of their production capacity.

This includes regular hoof trimming and care, making sure barns are cool and well-ventilated, and keeping bedding fresh and dry.

"A healthy, happy cow is a much more productive cow, so it's definitely in the farmer's best interest to take really good care of their cows," Sonnek said. "Some people are even putting air conditioners in the barns. But that's going a little too far."

-- Kari Lydersen

Devout Phish Fans Flood

Vermont for Final Concert

Phish is about to swamp this state.

One of the all-time inhale, kick-back-and-jam rock bands, Phish will give its final concert Aug. 14-15. And Vermont officials are preparing with all the energy of a hurricane drill in South Florida.

Roads will be closed, the Department of Liquor Control will house 18 inspectors on-site, the state epidemiologist will remain on beeper, and health inspectors will keep an eye on 1,200 portable toilets. Phish is paying to keep ambulance crews on-site.

The finale for the Vermont-born band will be high in the northern hills, in the groovy region known as the Northeast Kingdom. The lineal descendants, more or less, of the Grateful Dead, Phish inspires near-religious devotion in its fans, who get married at shows, trade live recordings -- bootlegs, in the vernacular -- and travel from show to show with the passion of penitential pilgrims. (Phish's last semi-retirement is now venerated as "The Hiatus.")

About 70,000 are expected to attend the final concert. "For the sake of clarity," Phish has noted on its Web site, ". . . We're done."

-- Michael Powell

Collection Agency Gives

Fine Payback to Austin Library

You've heard of bill collectors and the repo man. Now the Austin Public Library has its own enforcer.

The library in the Texas capital is sending a collection agency after thousands of residents who last year racked up $500,000 -- half the system's yearly book budget -- in fines for overdue and lost books, audio cassettes, videos and DVDs. Since it began a special database in 1988, the library has documented $3 million in such losses, spokeswoman Patricia Fraga said.

"It's called gentle nudging," she said.

Starting July 1, Unique Management Services Inc. of Jeffersonville, Ind., which works with libraries exclusively, began sending warning letters to delinquents to give them the chance to pay up or return the materials.

Failure to comply after a second-chance letter will result in the person's name being sent to a credit reporting agency.

Announcement of the initiative prompted some frantic calls. "They said, 'Hey, don't turn my name over. I'll pay the $42 I've owed since 1998,' " Fraga said. "In that respect, this is good.

"People can now think the library is important and that you should respect it," she said.

"Because this is free and people don't feel like they're paying for anything, they think, 'Why should I return it?' "

-- Sylvia Moreno