Bringing dairy foods to our tables
In the spirit of Dairy Month, we thought it would be good to take a look at what dairy farmers do each day to bring wholesome dairy foods to our tables.
We begin with a well-known local farmer, Les Hardesty, of Colorado.
“My wife Sherrill keeps asking me what I’m going to do when I grow up,” says Les. “I tell her that I’m still going to be milking cows.”
“My oldest brother got us started in dairy farming … it just seemed like a natural career choice for me and him to follow.
“It’s nearly impossible to imagine doing anything differently and it really is because of the animals. They’re truly magnetic and you better believe that we do everything possible to make sure they are healthy and comfortable.
“Our income, our success, our future, the future of our farm depends on how well we care for the animals, bottom line. If they’re not comfortable, if they’re not clean, if they’re not dry, if they’re not healthy, then that jeopardizes the long-term viability of our farm.
“We also are strongly committed to the land and doing our part to keep Colorado beautiful. We’re located 30 miles from the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains, 5,000 feet above sea level. But, Colorado and our town of Greeley are changing. We are in an area of rapid urban growth that has brought more visibility to us as dairy farmers. The challenge we face is being able to operate a dairy farm efficiently in an environment of growth and change.
“Dairy farmers are recyclers of products that other industries discard like cottonseed and distiller’s grain. These products are nutritious feed sources for cows, but if not used for that purpose would otherwise end up in a landfill.
“Our dairy has evolved into a hands-on teaching facility. We conduct tours that allow kids to see cows being milked. That way, they will know where their milk comes from. We also have an interactive area where children can scratch and pet some of our cows.
“I’m thankful that my own three teenage children are growing up on a dairy farm. They all have chores, such as caring for the calves, which teaches them to love and respect animals, which will become a life-long experience for them. We feel fortunate doing what we love, every day of the week. You just can’t beat it.”
Gary Boyke of Wisconsin milks 1,350 cows each day.
Boyke said, “I’ve always loved cows. I guess that’s something I inherited from the two generations of Boykes that preceded me on our family farm in Eastern Wisconsin. Dairy farming has been in my blood and it’s been fun for my wife, Rose, and I to raise our own four children on the same farm where I first learned to walk.
“Taking care of our cows, our family, our employees and our land and water resources are time-honored traditions at Vir-Clar Farm. We’ve added two other priorities over the past few years. One is being a good community citizen, and the other is helping to provide electricity to our neighbors.
“At Vir-Clar Farm, we recently installed a bio-energy digester. This device generates “green energy” from our manure in abundance of two to three times the energy we can use on our farm. By generating our own electricity, we’re able to power our entire milking operation and keep our cows comfortable all year long, with enough energy left over to supply over 300 homes! We use the by-products produced by the digester as a natural fertilizer, compost and as a source of clean bedding for our animals.
“Producing renewable energy from our manure is just one way we’re helping to protect our natural resources. Another way we take care of our land and water is by following a comprehensive conservation plan. The fields on our farm are mapped out and we have a plan for exactly what crops will be planted on each field each year. This helps ensure we maintain a high-quality soil, resulting in healthy waterways and healthy crops.
“Our farm is adjacent to a beautiful lake that is home to nearly 100 families. We also have a number of creeks that run through our farm. Our family enjoys the recreation that these waterways offer and we want our neighbors to be able to do the same for generations to come.
“In order to do that, we attend the local Lake Association annual meeting and provide an update and a future outlook for our farm. We also practice an open door policy with our neighbors, so they can see a cow being milked, a calf being fed, crops being harvested or renewable energy being made. All of these activities are part of our farm’s mission statement, which is “producing milk and power for America.”
“Two of our four children have returned home to be part of our farming operation. They represent the fourth generation of dairy farmers in our family and we’re confident that they too will carry on the strong commitment we have to our cows, our land and our community.
Paul Rovey of Arizona also deals with challenging issues while milking 2,500 head.
“I was born and raised on the dairy farm that we still work on today,” states Paul. “My father was born and raised here in the Phoenix area on a farm that once stood in a location that is now in the middle of the city. After he graduated from college in 1943, he bought another farm that we’ve been on ever since.”
“I enjoyed growing up on a dairy farm with my five brothers and three sisters. I couldn’t wait to come back to the farm after I graduated from college. The farm has always been home to me.
“Eventually my brother and I bought the dairy from my father. We now have two facilities, including one at the University of Arizona that serves as a teaching facility. Our partnership with the university allows professors and students to conduct research and training at an actual dairy farm. We’re currently working with the university on a project where water from dairies can be recycled with no harm to the environment.
“Water is an important issue to all of us in Arizona. We’ve been in a drought for the last five to seven years. From time to time, we do get heavy rainfall, so it’s important for us to monitor and manage the rain that falls on our farm. We constructed additional ponds to make sure that the rain that falls on the dairy stays on the dairy.
“Arizona is still experiencing lots of growth and change, which is why it’s important for us to respect our neighbors. At our main dairy, we buffer ourselves with our own ground, so we don’t have neighbors right next door. We planted trees around the property so that when you drive by, you don’t even realize that there’s a dairy operation here. We try to make the dairy as innocuous as possible, right down to controling the fly and mosquito populations.
“It’s important for us to maintain a neighborly approach and the quality of life here in Glendale. My wife Deborah and I make our home here and our five children are growing up in a community that we love. We’re very involved in various city activities, our city council and our church.
“Our neighbors understand that if there’s any way we can assist them or help them understand our challenges, we’re here for them.”
Mike Roth of Idaho has his hands full. He milks 5,200 head each day.
“As far back as I can remember dairy has been a part of my family’s life. It started in the 1920s when my grandparents immigrated to the United States from Switzerland and continues today at our farm, Si-Ellen.
“With the vast majority of dairies being family-owned and operated in the United States, it shows the kind of history and heritage that has developed as generation after generation continues dairy farming. My entire family, five brothers and three sisters, are actively involved in running our dairy. It gives each of us a sense of continuity and the opportunity to pass on longstanding family traditions.
“We are in this business because of our desire to create a wholesome food that people enjoy and for me, it goes even deeper. It’s a personal endeavor to honor my ancestors and the way of life they created for our family.
“We do as much as can to care for our animals. We have a full time nutritionist who monitors what our cows eat to make sure they have a proper diet. Our cows receive excellent veterinary care, including an extensive vaccination program to keep them healthy. We take care of our cows because we know that as productive animals in our herd, they in turn, will take of us.
“The land we use for our dairy is also very important to us. At Si-Ellen Farms, we have planted hundreds of poplar trees that act as a wind buffer, prevent soil erosion, and create a natural habitat for birds and wild animals.
“Idaho’s water supply is one of its greatest assets. We want to make certain we use this valuable resource wisely, so we constructed a lake to catch excess canal water as a more efficient means to store it for future use. Not only did this make sense from an economic standpoint, but the lake also serves as a conservation project because it provides the perfect environment for fish and plants.
“It’s important to my family that we are good neighbors. We make every effort to build strong relationships. We work with our neighbors, providing top-notch natural compost for their fields and they in turn provide feed for our cows, reducing everyone’s dependency on commercial sources of fertilizer and feed.
“Our dairy farm has given us a unique opportunity to develop a give-and-take connection with our neighbors, which is one of the reasons my family and I enjoy what we do so much.
“The other part of being a good neighbor is lending a helping hand. We have held several auctions at our farm to raise money for local charities and families who need assistance. It’s just the right thing to do.”
So, the next time you reach for a dairy product, be sure to stop and think of where it came from, and the dedicated farmers behind the quality cows that provide the milk to us each and every day.
Don’t forget to thank those dairy farmers for all their hard work!
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