People sometimes think the cows on our dairy farm are condemned to miserable lives in little jail cells—until they arrive, look around, and learn the truth about what we do here in rural Wisconsin.
Myth-busting is an important part of why we welcome visitors to our busy workplace. Last week, it was 41 first graders from a local school. We’re expecting more traffic soon, as we approach the attention of World Milk Day on June 1.
As people everywhere have become further removed from the realities of agriculture, they’ve become less knowledgeable about food production—and increasingly vulnerable to everything from honest misconceptions to sensationalistic lies on social media.
The reality is much different from what a lot of people believe.
Let’s start with a simple and indisputable fact: Milk is an amazing and nutritious drink. I prefer it ice-cold in a glass. Others enjoy it in flavors such as chocolate and strawberry. Lots of people consume it with breakfast cereal. No matter how you enjoy this beverage, it’s loaded with calcium, phosphorus, vitamins, and more—and a good part of a healthy diet.
It’s also versatile. Although our family farm has a long history of producing milk for people to drink, most of what we produce right now goes into cheese and yogurt.
And it’s the result of hard work. We milk our cows three times per day, every eight hours, around the clock. We never stop, not even at night, except to sanitize equipment at the end of every milking-shift.
The best milk comes from the best animals—and that means keeping them happy, clean, and healthy. You can’t go wrong by doing the right thing, and so we produce our high-quality milk in a wholesome way.
First, our cows are happy. They can roam around the dairy barn, eating and drinking whenever they want. They like to settle down in individual stalls, laying down in comfortable beds of sand. They live in bovine luxury. We do keep the adults inside, and that’s what they would choose, just as you’d probably rather relax in an air-conditioned home than swelter beneath the blazing summer sun.
Second, our cows are clean. They can be messy, of course, but that’s why automated scrapers move through our barns every couple of hours, wiping away the manure. Cows tend not to poop in their stalls, but we check those, too, when they leave for milking. We regularly replace the sand in their beds.
Third, our cows are healthy. We feed them well, and much of what they eat grows in our own fields, where we grow corn, alfalfa, soybeans, and more.
Great crops come from great soil, which is why we protect our soil with sustainable practices such as no-till and cover crops. Nobody’s making more ground, so we build depth rather than width—and make sure our soil holds moisture, hosts beneficial microbes, and generates the nutrients that allow crops to thrive.
These methods also guard against soil erosion, which is a traditional concern but has become more worrisome in recent years, as climate change has turned many ordinary showers into drastic rain events. Our goal is to keep the soil where it’s supposed to stay.
We’re sustainable in other ways, too. The manure from our cows is not a waste product that we flush away but a resource that we put in our fields. Because of this, our crops are much less dependent on synthetic fertilizers than they once were. When we use fertilizers and crop-protection products, we rely on precision technologies to apply it in limited quantities.
We strive to do more with less.
Almost everybody who visits our farm learns something new about dairy farming, and usually it involves a pleasant surprise as we defy expectations about animal welfare, sanitation, and conservation.
Yet we often find ourselves governed and regulated by people who don’t visit farms. From bureaucratic warrens in capital cities, they often think that they know how to do our jobs better than we do—and then they invent rules that don’t make sense for farmers or livestock.
The solution is to witness what we do. We’re ready to see you here on World Milk Day.