Behind the Scenes: Family’s First Dairy Farm Visit
My name is Mandy and I am a new United Dairy Industry of Michigan staffer. A little bit about me: I grew up in Mason, MI, a small town which has a lot of farmers in the area. In fact, the neighborhood I grew up in was less than a mile from a farm, but, I am still very green to the agriculture industry, especially dairy farming. Recently, I had the opportunity to visit my first dairy farm at a Breakfast on the Farm event. Powered by Michigan State University Extension, Breakfast on the Farm is a dairy-fun event filled with interactive activities—perfect for families!
More first-timers to a dairy farm, my parents, Jerry and Carrie, and friend, Bobby joined me. It was an awesome experience, and I am very excited to co-write this blog post with my family and share our perspectives.
When asked to attend Breakfast on the Farm, I did not really know what to expect, but I was excited to have a Saturday outing with the family on a beautiful day. When we pulled into the parking lot (field) I could not believe how many cars I saw. It was packed and full of eager and hungry people, thrilled to be at the farm. First off the breakfast was delicious! We enjoyed a made-on-site breakfast of pancakes, scrambled eggs, apple slices, orange juice, and sausage. Of course, there was white and chocolate milk to grab. After the breakfast, we started our tour. One of my favorite moments was visiting the cows’ housing. You could tell the farmers keep animal wellbeing in mind on the farm, as the cows had full access to fresh feed and water. The cows also had very soft bedding made of sand, like they were laying on the beach! We learned in order for cows to produce high-quality and wholesome milk, they must be comfortable and in a stress-free environment, which was why the farmers take many measures to make sure their cows are well-cared for and happy. As an animal lover myself, I found it very enlightening.
The greatest thing that stood out to me and definitely enriched my visit was the kindness from the dairy farm family who hosted. As we waited in line for breakfast, we were able to meet the family of J&J Dairy. This community is truly genuine, and I felt the sense of welcoming right when I got there. Another highlight was visiting the milking parlor and the milk truck. We saw the importance of milk quality and safety first-hand, as cows come to the parlor three times a day to get milked for 6-7 minutes, and from there the milk travels through a pipeline before it is delivered into a refrigerated milk truck. The milk tanker was huge, holding up to 6,500 gallons or 104,000 glasses of milk. Then the milk is transported to a local processor every day. At this farm, the milk goes to Dean’s Country Fresh in Grand Rapids to be processed. One fun fact we learned is the milk is delivered to the grocery store in just 48 hours, so it goes to show the milk we are drinking is very fresh. No wonder why it tastes so good!
I greatly enjoyed my first dairy farm tour and Breakfast on the Farm! As someone who likes learning, I found the day as not only educational, but also very interactive! There were plenty of games and hands-on activities for the kids too. Also, I am passionate about sustainability and found it very uplifting to see how dairy farmers care about the environment. For instance, we learned the farm recycles their water several times a day. When milk from the cow enters the pipes, recycled water circulates around the pipes through a plate cooler in order to cool the milk quickly before entering the milk truck, thus reducing the energy needed to cool the milk to 38 degrees Fahrenheit. We also learned when there is increased efficiency in milk production (fewer cows producing more milk), the overall carbon footprint is reduced. Did you know that greenhouse gas emissions are only about 2% for dairy farms in the U.S.? This alone is so important and definitely deserves a shout-out to our dairy farmers.
My experience was very positive and not just because I have to say that! My highlight was definitely the baby cows, where I learned they are called calves. They were so cute and I took plenty of pictures to document my first time. It was super cool how the volunteers let us pet them. One of the calves, who was just one-month-old, happened to be really attached to me, as she kept rubbing her head on my legs. Needless to say, my heart melted when I scratched the top of her head, and I think it is safe to say the love was mutual, as the drool on my pant leg in the photo can prove! One important thing I learned during the tour was calves are born without an active immune system, and they have a special area on the farm just for them so they can receive the attention they need promptly. I also loved visiting the maternity area because there was a newborn calf there with its mom. The maternity area was very well-kept, with many farm workers around paying very close attention. Many people are concerned the calves are separated from their mothers, however the calf area is a safer environment due to its cleanliness (remember the calves’ lack of immune system), and does not allow for potential crushing from large, adult cows. I hope other families, like my own, who have never been to a farm will want to go visit one themselves after reading this. If you can, attend a Breakfast on the Farm! The farm family would love to welcome you!
Breakfast on the Farm is a free event designed for families or anyone who is interested in learning more about farm practices or dairy farming. Looking for a summer outing for your family? Don’t miss out on the next Breakfast on the Farm on August 19 in Middleton, MI, hosted by De Saegher Dairy! Click here for details.