On Wednesday, we decided to take a roadtrip to a nearby dairy farm that I had heard about last year.
We drove north on I-65 towards Chicago, and on the way there we passed through a very interesting kind of farm that we had never seen before.
Row after row of windmill stretched for as far as we could see!
After several miles of windmills, and many more miles of corn, we arrived at Fair Oaks Farm.
The Fair Oaks Dairy Adventure is actually a huge operation, organized by a group of 10 different dairy farms in the area. We arrived at the Visitor Center,
paid our admission fees (with a significant AAA discount – I actually remembered to ask!), and followed the hallway of cows
to wait for our bus to take us on the tour.
There’s a definite theme going on around here!
Visitors are not allowed to have any physical contact with the cows, because they don’t want them exposed to any germs that are not local to the region. The bus tour gives you a pretty good overview of the whole operation, though. We drove about a mile from the Visitor Center to reach one of the dairy farms.
This is one of the free-roaming barns in the distance.
We saw where the cows’ food is prepared.
They have a precise combination of grains that they feed to the cows.
This is a pile of ground corn that is fermenting under this tarp, and will go into the feed.
Next we drove past the anaerobic digestion tanks, where manure is processed into methane gas which is then used to provide power to the Visitor Center, and the Cheese and Ice Cream Processing Plant.
Giant tanks of methane gas!
Next we moved on to see the main attraction . . . the cows! They are housed in free-roaming barns, where they are allowed to wander freely, eating, drinking and resting on their own relaxed schedule.
The barn sides are open in the summer, and the cows have misters on them to keep them cool. In the winter they can be closed up to keep in their body heat and keep ice from forming.
Outside the barn, was a row of little huts for the new calves.
These little guys are SO cute!
Each of the 3200 cows on the farm is taken to the milking house 3 times per day to be milked. That was our next stop on the tour, and the only time we were able to get off the bus.
The milking carousel takes about 8 minutes for a full revolution
It’s an amazing process to see – there are hundreds of cows waiting in the barn to come into the carousel to be milked – and they know just when to get on the carousel, and when to get off at the end!
We noticed that many of the cows had markings on their backs – either green or orange. The orange marking indicated that she was in heat (which they know by tracking the number of steps she takes in a day; when her steps triple, she’s in heat) and ready to to artificially inseminated, and green meant that she’s pregnant.
Back on the bus, we went back to the Visitor Center where we checked out some of the interactive displays and the 4D movie.
Tom and Bryce sporting their awesome 3D glasses!
Nicolas made an attempt at climbing the magnetic wall – almost to the top!
The other main attraction at the farm is the Birthing Barn, where several calves are born each day. There was nothing going on when we got back from the tour, so we decided to get a bite to eat for lunch.
What else would we want to drink with our sandwiches? Milk!!
By the time we were done with lunch, the green light was on at the Birthing Barn, indicating that a birth was in process, so we headed right over there.
One of the many outdoor play areas for kids . . .
In the birthing barn, the Vet was having some trouble with a first-time mom. She was supposed to be laying down, but she wouldn’t, so the Vet had to pull the calf . . . it was quite a process to see!
She attached straps to the calf’s legs
She worked and pulled and finally the calf was free
With that done, the mama cow cleaned up her baby, and it wasn’t long before this little guy was trying to stand up!
Shortly after, the Vet moves mama and baby out to make room for another. Mama goes back into the barn, and baby gets put on display.
This little guy is strong, and ready to try walking!
One of the calves born earlier in the day is trying to get on her feet, too.
The calves are SO cute – especially the black & white ones!
Before we left the barn, another calf was born – this one without assistance!
It was a fun and educational day at the farm, and we all enjoyed our visit!