The following was written by one of our interns or apprentice who spent a week with us this summer on the farm. With 4 out of 5 Americans living in the city or suburbia a chance to experience farm life is rewarding! When the Bed & Breakfast opens this summer, you too can stay with the cows, although we won't make you work as much, unless you want to try out the Be A Dairy Farmer Challenge!
Thanks for visiting, living, and working with us Lewis. And thanks for sharing your experience with the world.
What do you want to call it? Duty? Responsibility? Fun? Personally, I couldn’t tell the difference. My experience at New Day Dairy might’ve been a mix of all three, and I can’t tell you how I felt about the work I did. I honestly don’t know… But I can tell you that it’ll keep you very occupied, grateful, and surprisingly happy.
I’ll start from the beginning. I’m a city kid from Omaha, Nebraska. I’ve never lived anywhere else, unless you count vacations. I don’t know farm life. My one experience came with my great uncle on his ranch, where I rode a horse and almost got kicked by a couple. That’s it. So when my dad, after reading Ben Sasse’s The Vanishing American Adult, concluded that I needed to work on a farm before high school. When I heard the plan, I thought: DARN.
Mr. Sasse is a cool guy. I read a lot about him, and I’ve met him person several times through the homeschool community. And all of a sudden, it seemed to me that he’d wrecked my life. Finding out I’d have to wake up early and work all day sounded dumb. I’d expected and dreaded for months the 5:00 mornings and cow manure I wasn’t too excited. Then the day came.
Sure, there was cow manure. And yes, I had to wake up early to do things that didn’t seem half as good as sleeping for a couple more hours. But it wasn’t torture. It was learning, working, and responsibility I’d never known before.
My first discovery didn’t have anything to do with cows. MR. BOLIN’S CATS WEREN’T FAT, LAZY, OR CRANKY. THEY ACTUALLY DID STUFF. City cats are spoiled with serious attitudes. I’ve never liked cats. I still don’t. But I did enjoy those cats. They abide by a mostly milk diet and do productive things like killing birds, chipmunks, and squirrels, as well as being very entertaining with their cow interactions.
Second, I found out that life on a farm had ups as well as downs. My nose couldn’t stand up to the smell in some places. I was sore from hard work. I didn’t shut feed windows correctly, resulting in three young calves escaping. All three were eventually rounded up, but I was still disappointed that I hadn’t done it right. If you think those are bad, wait until you hear about the downs! TOTALLY KIDDING. The ups were great. I got to hack through foliage with a machete. WIN. I got to herd stubborn cows that wouldn’t milk. FUN. I got to witness a dramatic storm and clean the resulting mess. STILL FUN.
With the surprising dutiful fun, I was able to take on responsibilities that I don’t take in mind to often. Going to bed at a reasonable time, for instance. And I fell asleep in five minutes. At home, it can take me hours. I got to man loose calves when a fence gave way and Mr. Bolin was away breeding maturing cows. I got to step over electric fences. All of these things gave me a sense of responsibility that was part fun, part labor, and part necessity.
Bulls and calves were born. Augers were run. Tractors were driven. Each night, The Bolin family was mindful that I was not a seemingly never-tiring workhorse like Mr. Bolin. I was able to experience the farm without misery.
If you want to be an apprentice at New Day Dairy, let them know. All you’ll need is a pair of boots and a willing attitude. They’ll handle the rest. And they’ll do a good job.
"Buy Local." "Buy direct from the farmer." "Whatever you do, don't buy from Walmart."
This is what we've been hearing on the street, social media, and more as Walmart's vertical integration of milk has made ripples & waves among dairy farmers and consumers.
That means we get the question - "Where can I buy your milk?" But the real question that's being asked is "How can I support farmers, especially family farms?"
For the few farms that both milk the cows & bottle the milk right there on their farm, you can buy milk at their farm stand and sometimes in the local grocery story. And if that works for you, it's great for you & for that local farmer.
But honestly that might not be the way a lot of us shop. I understand, I'm a busy mom and can't stop at every little farm stand. I've got a schedule and it's full - I just need to pick up all of our food for the week during my once a week grocery shopping trip.
So where then can you buy the milk that our cows make so you can support our family's farm?
Well, since we don't bottle our own milk or have the expertise to turn it into cheese or ice cream or cream cheese, we've joined with other family farmers and together have hired folks who are experts in those areas to take the milk from our cows and get it to your local grocery store shelf (or restaurant or school as lots of food ends up there too!).
We're part of Prairie Farms as members owners. After #DairymanDan feeds & cares for our cows & Rita the robot milks them, Luke, our milk truck driver comes & picks up the milk and usually brings it (along with milk from other neighboring farms) to a cheese plant in Luana to be made into Swiss Cheese & Cream Cheese.
But I'm grabbing a gallon of milk, not Swiss cheese...
Yes, that's right but if you're picking up a gallon of Prairie Farms milk it means it's made from milk that comes from our friend Jason's cows, for example. He lives nearer the plant that bottles Prairie Farms milk in Dubuque so his milk truck driver usually takes his milk to that plant. Since we work together you're helping us both (along with all the other family farms that are part of Prairie Farms). It doesn't matter if you buy a gallon of Prairie Farms milk (or their many other products) or a block of Swiss Valley Cheese (which isn't Prairie Farms branded but is made by Prairie Farms).
Throughout the United States there are many dairy farmer owned cooperatives that sell products in your local grocery store, sometimes branded the same as their cooperative name sometimes branded differently. Do you know other dairy cooperatives in other areas of the country? What brand should you look for in the store near you to help those dairy farmers?
Some other brands, like A&E or Blue Bunny (and even Great Value Walmart milk) here in Iowa, are milk processors that buy milk from individual dairy farmers and although they have contracts, unfortunately if A&E or Blue Bunny decides they don't need the milk that a farmer produces they can not renew the contract & stop buying that farmers' milk. When dairy farmers own the cooperative, that can't happen because the dairy farmers & the board they elect are in control.
Is there anything else I can do?
The most important thing is to eat dairy foods! In reality 97% of dairy farms are family owned & ultimately even that Great Value Walmart milk likely comes from a family dairy farm. To support our family specifically, buy Prairie Farms products whenever you can!
If you just want to make sure that you're buying local milk and milk products you can check the number on the package and if it starts with a "19" it means it was packaged & made into cheese or butter or some other dairy product at a plant in Iowa! At "Where is my milk from?" you can even enter that plant number & find out specifically where it was packaged!
One more way to help is to donate to the Great American Milk Drive who donates milk to your local food pantry. If you shop at Hy-Vee in the Midwest just tell the cashier to add an extra gallon to your bill when you check out!
Thanks for caring about family farms & making choices with your wallet. It's easy to pick up the loss leader $1.48 gallon of milk (I know because I'm so tempted too!) & if buying that means your family can enjoy more dairy products than go ahead & grab it. But we, as Prairie Farms farmers owners, would love for you to enjoy Prairie Farms products & support us in the process! Thank you!
P.S. If you want to know more about how we're part of a dairy cooperative check out this post!
This is the first post from a series of posts in November 2017.
Grati-mooooo-d, because being thankful definitely improves your mooooood!
Old towels & corn stalk bedding that help keep newborn calves dry & warm!
Raising kids on the farm... Working, learning, & playing together!
Big concrete alleys for the kids to ride bikes in... especially since I grew up on a gravel road & always wanted some pavement!
Fall = Pumpkin
Cows = Milk = Cream Cheese
Yummy Pumpkin Cream Cheese Swirl Muffins
This recipe is a keeper!
Opportunities to learn about life, which includes new calves being born (& in this case experiencing it with cousins).
The generations that have come before us & how they've shaped us!
I hope we have this much fun at our 60th anniversary!
#DairymanDan's ability to fix things - especially Rita the robot when she breaks down (rare but it does happen!)
How Dave & Pam have not only adapted but embraced the technology we now use daily, including all the data on our smartphones.
Pam's hard work & careful care of our calves as well as helping in so many other ways from cow care to watching grandkids to her famous track bars & cakes!
This awesome 5 month baby who has made the transition to a family of 5 so easy (so far!).
Today we say thank you to those who have served & are serving in our armed forces. Thank you for your selfless commitment & sacrifice!
P.S. We loved learned more about the military when Becoming Bailey & her army recruiter husband came to visit for the Be A Dairy Farmer Challenge!
I love sharing & learning with others about our lives, especially when they affect me like the military that protects me or me sharing about how the food you eat is made.
We all have important & interconnected roles and understanding them helps us all live more fulfilling & less judgemental lives!
Great tech support from AMS Galaxy USA Robotic Milking when something goes wrong with Rita the robot!
Just last night Dave & Pam had to call while Dan was away & they were able to help them get Rita back to milking cows!
Here is Dan in spring 2015 graduating from tech school in Pennsylvania at training school located on a working farm!
Neighbors who we can trade with - stalk bedding bales for manure!
Our calves get try bedding throughout the winter & our neighbor's field gets nutrient rich fertilizer.... a win-win!
Our veterinarians! We have one of the best teams anyone could ask for!
They're on call 24/7 & have not only helped us with sick & hurt cows but also give us great advice about general health & care for our girls!
In this photo from early last year the vet is giving a check up to a cow. I don't have lots of up close pictures of vet work for the same reason I probably don't want to see pictures from your last doctor visit!
An opportunity to share our cows, barn, & Rita the robot with Bill Northey, our Iowa Secretary of Agriculture.
This is the second post from a series of posts in November 2017
Grati-mooooo-d, because being thankful definitely improves your mooooood!
We're going to hear from the cows the next few days - or at least what we're pretty sure they'll thankful for!
Access to plentiful clean water (& we're thankful that we don't have to carry it or fill it - they automatically fill!)
The daily salad buffet of food with corn silage, haylage, & peas/barlage (all fermented) and some added vitamins & minerals + granola power treats in the robot when milking!
Comfy, clean sand beach beds to lounge around on... or cozy up to a friend and on!
Rita the robot who milks them consistently, the same way every time... no surprises!
Freedom to wander about to eat, drink, & be merry... Well at least to sleep & relax!
A back (or head or butt or tail) rub whenever they want... I wish I had one!
We're hearing from the cows again... although we're pretty thankful for this too!
Automatic manure scrappers... the cows appreciate having a clean place to hang out (they run every few hours) & we appreciate only having to manually scrape the cross-over areas, in between the auto-scrapped alleys.
Day 23: Thanksgiving Day
Those cows are always up to something....
Happy Thanksgiving from Valwood & all her friends!
The cow's nutritionist... that's right!
He stops by every other week to check on the cows, examine their manure (that's what he's doing here - you can learn a lot!), & talk with Dan about how things are going (problems, things going well, new ideas, & more!).
Our dairy coop, Prairie Farms Dairy. As farmer owners we pool our milk with other farmers to make all sorts of yummy dairy products!
Today we're especially grateful for Rita the Robot's CONSISTENCY so that we could have FLEXIBILITY so that when we needed to help with a family medical need during traditional "milking" time we could go knowing the cow's would still be getting milked.
PS... this is a throwback video to the first day Rita was on the job!
Another great part of our team.... The pedicurists, otherwise known as hoof trimmers!
Each cow got her semi-annual hoof care visit during the past two days!
They get to visit the fancy big red "spa" to help them stay in place... Because really, have you ever tried painting a toddler's nails?
The guys that haul our milk from the farm to the plant that turns it into cheese!
They come rain or shine, snow or ice - just like he's pulling up on a sheet of ice last winter.
On our last day we want to say "Thank you!" to you for following along, caring about where your food comes from, & getting to experience a family farm!
If you haven't connected via our newsletter be sure to sign up for a chance to win either yummy Swiss cheese or (NEW!) $15 gift certificate for Prairie Farms products!
We draw a winner every time we send out a newsletter, typically monthly!
Wanna know more about what you'll do or already scheduled your spot & want to get prepared? Then read on!
Get Up Close & Personal
Typically in our barn visitors get pretty close to our cows in the alleyways but in order to scrape manure off the crossovers you'll get to head in among the cows, don't worry #DairymanDan will go with you & our cows are very calm!
Did you know that cows have a "personal bubble"? #DairymanDan will teach you all about how to use that personal bubble to move a cow where you want her to go without even touching her! If any cows need to be encouraged to go get milked you'll help get her in the "fetch" pen.
They're big & powerful and you'll get to ride in one, and maybe even take the wheel! Did you know the term tractor was coined just north of us in Charles City?
Everyday #DairymanDan uses the mixer wagon to mix up the cow's "salad" & then deliver it. Climb up and peek inside to see the huge augers that mix it all up!
Care for the Calves
They're cute, little (relatively speaking), and need extra special care. Hopefully we'll have a new baby calf, just a couple days old & you'll get to bottle feed a calf. If not you can still help deliver milk to the calves buckets & help them learn to eat their pellets by hand feeding them.
Peek under the Hood
Always the most popular stop, people love seeing Rita at work, milking the cows. But you'll get to look under Rita's hood in the back of the robot room and see not only her arm at work but all her inner workings too!
You'll even have a chance to "play" with Rita's controller... kinda like your favorite video game!
At the end of your barn time you'll get an exclusive t-shirt to proudly wear & showcase that you "walked in #DairymanDan's boots". Be sure to head over to the "Contact" page to let us know you're coming to be a dairy farmer! See you in the barn!
Growing up a city-girl, after marrying my dairy farmer husband and spending a few years abroad, we came home to expand the family dairy farm and want to share our journey & farm life with you!