What Dairy Farmers and Health Professionals Have in Common

December 01, 2016

With only 2 percent of the population living on farms today, it’s important that health and wellness professionals be prepared to have conversations about food and where it comes from with the public.

I have had the opportunity to visit several dairy farms during my time at National Dairy Council, and they are not all the same. Dairy farms can be small or large, milking 100 cows or 2,000 (and everything in between). They are located in every state of the country, from north to south, east to west, in arid, wet, warm or cold climates. But it wasn’t until I visited World Dairy Expo this fall, and met dairy farmers from opposite sides of the country during the virtual farm tours, that I truly appreciated the complexity of managing a dairy farm, and how vastly different individual dairy farms can be.

For example, Mapleline Farm in Hadley, Massachusetts, is located on 150 acres in a highly urban area. It is home to 135 Jersey cows, and it supplies the local college community with milk and cream pasteurized and bottled right on the farm. In contrast, Ruby Ridge Dairy in Pasco, Washington, farms 2,200 acres of semi-arid land they irrigate. They milk 2,300 Holsteins and have perfected a unique system for growing crops and feeding their cows that embodies both precision and personalization

I couldn’t help but see similarities between how these very different farmers manage different breeds of cows and how health and wellness professionals tailor their advice to meet the diverse needs of people they counsel. No matter where you practice as a health and wellness professional or who your client is, your goal is always the same: to provide credible, evidence-based advice to support health. Though dairy farmers differ in how they manage their farms, they all work 24/7 to take good care of their animals and their land in order to provide us with high-quality, nutritious milk.

Here are some things I learned about the two dairy farmers I met that you might relate to:   

Customized feeding: Dick and Ruby Bengen and their son, Todd, at Ruby Ridge Dairy have the philosophy to never expand unless you can treat cows individually. They have created a unique precision feeding system for their cows that involves growing the highest quality feed crops, custom mixing 10 different diets for the cows and feeding them according to their needs in close consultation with a veterinarian.

Meeting the needs of people: Mapleline Farm, owned and run by John Kokoski and his family, supplies milk to local restaurants, bakeries and coffee shops as well as five university campuses in the area, including University of Massachusetts at Amherst. John said coffee shops love the taste of his milk and how it holds up to frothing, while area bakeries and restaurants appreciate having a local source of heavy cream. In fact, everyone in the community values foods sourced locally.

Being a good neighbor: Mapleline Farm has been able to establish a loyal following for their milk by staying close to the community. Visitors can regularly tour the farm, which includes a room in their milk plant where people can watch white and flavored milks like chocolate, strawberry, orange cream and eggnog (in winter) being bottled. The farm’s conservation efforts and nutrient management plan have been widely recognized and among other distinctions was named the Massachusetts Outstanding Dairy Farm award in 2004.

Take this quiz to find out how much you know about dairy farms. Let’s learn all we can about where our food comes from so we can help others make the connection and be confident in the food available in the U.S.