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Talk of the Gown

The story of how Alexis Payne came to steer New York State medical professionals into ordering hundreds of Udder Tech, Inc. milking gowns starts where a story like this should start. It was the evening of March 20, and Payne was heading out to the milking barns.

Payne doesn’t often wear milking gowns herself (she says she favors the bibs) but she does know a thing or two about gown functionality. When a phone call came in from her aunt just as she was getting ready to head out, Payne was the expert on the other end of the line medical professionals knew they needed.

They just didn’t know this particular Animal Science student was one they had.

“My aunt doesn’t call often,” says Payne, “so I knew there was probably a good reason she was calling. I knew I should pick up the phone.”

A nanny, Payne’s aunt had a client with a growing problem among medical professionals and hospital workers. In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, she was unable to find consistent access to personal protective equipment, or PPE. She wondered if there was anyone out there who might be able to offer information about milking gowns as a substitute.

She could not have known about the expert who was one phone call away – or the level of her expertise.

“The Udder Tech gowns came to mind right away because of how durable and well known they are in the industry,” says Payne. “I am familiar with the (product line) and I suggested they might be a good fit for what she was looking for.”

Udder Tech makes everyday products like medicine totes, blankets, and bibs. The gowns are light-weight and breathable. That makes them ideal for dairy farmers – and anybody else who may need coverage when performing an active task.

Payne hadn’t quite made the jump yet. “I was just thinking like a dairy farmer. At first I didn’t even think about how these gowns could be adapted for use in hospitals.”

In April, Payne received another call. Her suggestion had led her aunt’s client to immediately purchase hundreds of milking gowns from Udder Tech. A month later, Payne got a third call. The client had shared the Udder Tech gowns with her colleagues and Boston’s Massachusetts General Hospital’s Board of Directors. That led to additional sales.

Payne is studying in the dairy track of SUNY Cobleskill’s Animal Science BT. One of the first people she contacted after learning of the magnitude of her suggestion was Assistant Professor Kim Tarvis.

Tarvis is more qualified than most to speak about the role of milking gowns these days. But it is from a conversation with her mother, registered nurse of 46 years Margaret Tarvis, that she is able to provide insights from the medical front.

“The sleeved apron Udder Tech produces can be used as personal protective equipment, and covers everything that needs to be covered, and most importantly, is waterproof,” says Tarvis. The explanation comes directly from her mother.

“Healthcare providers were so short on PPE (that) they were looking for this anywhere. Since the aprons are machine washable, they can be sterilized and washed for use in these COVID-19 healthcare applications. The aprons can be integrated easily with pre-existing PPE. It is essential that the apron cover arms to the wrist without breaks to the neck for proper coverage.”

Back in the North Country, Payne says her life as a dairy farmer hasn’t changed much since returning from Cobleskill in March. On a human level, she knows life is drastically different for others.

“On one of the calls with my aunt she told me ‘you know, you’re literally helping save lives.’ As a dairy farmer you don’t think about that. But as a human being you see what’s happening and it’s hard not to be blown away. I never thought these industries could come together like this.”

There is a positive in this story for the dairy industry, too. The increase in sales is helping an important industry company. In a time when help can come from anywhere, it is coming from Payne, Udder Tech, and two fields working together.