Prairieland Dairy Creates Sustainable Milk Production
Photos Courtesy of Prairieland Dairy
For many agricultural producers, the thought of having thousands of people roam their farm is a scary and uninviting idea. However, for the owners of Prairieland Dairy, it is an annual event.
Prairieland Dairy, located in Firth, Neb., is a sustainable dairy farm that promotes transparency, and hosts an open house every year where six to seven thousand people visit the farm and learn about milk production.
“The entire event is geared toward teaching people about modern agriculture and where their food comes from. The only thing that will surprise you more than the visitors ignorance about agriculture is their insatiable hunger for knowledge about the origin of their food,” said Terry Landes, Public Relations and Marketing Manager for Prairieland Dairy.
The open house, which will be held on June 23, 2012 from 11-4, will feature tours of the cow barn and milking parlor, free milk, ice cream and lunch, a kids pavilion, milk truck rides, a petting zoo, face painting, barrel rides, a hay toss and a corn box where kids can play in corn.
“It’s simple really, we could spend a lot of time and money telling people what we are doing, or hold a five hour event and show them what we are doing. We began the open house nine years ago as a way of sharing our growth plans with our neighbors. Each year our neighbors invited more and more people. Nine years later we have 5,000 plus visitors during our open house, and another 10,000 people during the remainder of the year. In 2012 we are expecting between 6,000 and 7,000 people,” said Landes.
Allowing the public to come onto the farm is vitally important to the operation. “For us, it’s especially important because our product is marketed directly to the consumer. Consumers today want to know where their food comes from. People can come do and see anything they want on the dairy on that day. I just feel that there is more and more of a consumer base that wants to see where their food comes from and so they are comfortable with the food they are consuming,” said Megan Rice, Herd Manager for the dairy.
The dairy is a combination of several dairies that decided to partner together. “Prairieland Dairy was created when four small family dairy farms made the commitment to build a sustainable dairy operation for the next generation. The Obbink Farm in Firth, Neb., the Wil-Mar-Sen Dairy in Beatrice, Neb., the Eickhoff Dairy in Fall City, Neb., and the Rice Dairy in Pennsylvania created a partnership to build a single 1,500 dairy farm with the vision of developing a system of vertical integration. Prairieland Dairy’s unique approach to effectively managing resources includes a commercially licensed composting operation, a fluid milk processing plant, a 1,500 head dairy farm and agri-tourism,” said Landes.
The dairy focuses on being sustainable, and does that through innovation and their management practices. “Prairieland Dairy never stops learning from others and we feel a strong sense of responsibility to share our knowledge with others. This philosophy has created an environment where innovation is rewarded. It is the love for learning that lead to a water management system where each gallon of water is used for five distinctive purposes: geo-thermal heating/cooling, cool raw milk, water the animals, flush the barns, irrigate and to fertilize crops. Our innovation has lead to animal nutrition and care, which has resulted in milk production, which surpassed that of our r-BST days. This innovation created a water purification system resulting in amazingly high quality raw milk,” said Landes.
Being sustainable is more than just about efficiency, however. “Regardless of the numerous innovations and the modern nature of the farm’s size and structure, our rock solid foundation has remained unchanged; commitment to the environment, our families and our community. We measure every decision we make by its effect on the environment, the financial needs of the dairy farm families, including those of our employees, and the appropriate thing to do for our community and the next generation,” said Landes.
This focus on the environment being sustainable has allowed the next generation to come back to the farm. Due to this structure, the families now have a fifth generation working on the farm.
One of the members of that generation is Rice, who is a recent graduate of South Dakota State University. She decided to come back to the dairy because of the opportunities she had.
It’s always been a large part of my life and I love the cows. There was an opportunity here at the home farm, and I really believe in what we are doing here, which is marketing our own product. We see the product go from the cow to the consumer in the same day. Even when we are out working cattle we always have the consumer in mind, as well as our employees and our cattle. The way that they have everything in terms of management, it’s very appealing to the next generation,” said Rice.
Her love for dairy cattle stems from her general love of animals. “Dairy cattle I think are cool. You see them every day, and they become like a companion animal. I know the cows from when they have a calf all the way through when they are done milking. Their attitude is also appealing because they are so docile,” she said.
As the herd manager, Rice has learned how to set production goals, and manage the herd to meet those goals. Some of the 2012 goals for the dairy include:
• 82 pounds of milk per cow per day
• 3.75 percent fat in the milk
• 3.15 percent protein
• somatic cell count of 120,000 or lower
• cull rate of 34 percent
• calf loss less than 7 percent
• death loss of less than 7 percent
These goals are all geared toward keeping the dairy profitable, as well as sustainable. Another aspect of the farm that helps with profitability and sustainability is the composting program that the dairy has.
All of the manure produced by the dairy is composted, and sold to the public. This eliminates waste and creates another product that can be sold.
The dairy is always looking for new ways to expand and be more self sustaining. They are currently buying farm land, so that they can produce all of their own feedstuffs. Currently all steer calves are sold, but eventually the dairy would like to raise the steers for meat. There are also plans that include energy generation from a methane digester.
“We never stop learning or growing or innovating. We will continue to reinvent the farm every few years all in the name of to better serve people, cows and the planet,” said Landes.