Sept. 18 2020 09:00 AM

A good friend with little ag experience recently spent a weekend immersed on our dairy farm.

One of my best friends told me she wanted the full farm experience, so I invited her to stay on our acreage and dive into farm life in abundant and not-so-glamorous ways. If you asked me to examine my list of friends and pick out one who is most representative of city living, I would no doubt pick Laura. She has lived and worked in Kansas City, Kan., for a good portion of her life, so I was excited to bring her to rural Iowa for some farming adventures.

Laura and I met on our first day of work at a dairy cooperative — our mutual ambition and age launched a lifelong friendship of two people from diverse backgrounds.

Fast-forward more than two years since I moved back to my home state of Iowa, and I finally got the chance to show Laura my world — the wonderful world of rural living, working with my family, and spending the vast majority of my time doing chores and caring for animals on our dairy farm.

Before I start rehashing our weekend, I better disclose that Laura has toured many dairy farms for her job as a meeting planner for a dairy cooperative. The concepts of what we do are not foreign to her, and she has definitely grown her dairy knowledge a thousandfold since I first met her (props to you, Laura!). However, touring a dairy farm and doing the nitty-gritty chores have their differences, and she’d agree.

Laura came prepared with her rubber rain boots and a willingness to get her hands dirty, and she really dove in! We spent a day showing her the ropes of morning chores, including scraping manure with the skid loader, mixing feed for heifers, dumping grain for our feeder steers, and watching for heifers coming into heat. Then, she got to ride along in the tractor as we hauled loads of corn silage. She learned all about the difference between chopping and combining, how fast we try to switch full and empty wagons, why we have a packing tractor on the bunker, and finally, how to cover the bunker to keep our silage fresh for the year ahead.

After those chores, she indulged in our evening shift of feeding calves and milking cows. As you can imagine, her ‘oohs and aahs’ at the up-close views of baby calves and feeding bottles were heartwarming.

By 4 p.m., we were ready to start evening milking. First, I showed Laura the full milking process on one cow and let her try putting on the milking unit. While she was a bit heavy-handed and ungraceful to start, she quickly caught on. She spent nearly an hour following me as I prepped cows, and she kept up with putting milkers on. Occasionally, I would take care of the newer heifers or cows that kick, but she handled it all in stride.

Following the arm workout of attaching milkers, she took over prepping and stripping the cows’ teats. The moment I’m sure she will never forget and that my mom said “fully initiated her” was when one cow pooped on her entire arm. I’ll admit, I’ve gotten plenty dirty milking cows, but she got the full works and truly got her hands, arms, and clothes dirty. The cows clearly accepted her after that.

Once Laura returned to Kansas City, I asked her what she thought of her farming adventure. For the most part, she was glad to experience everything fully and several chores weren’t nearly as bad as she had expected.

Laura summarized her experience by saying, “I loved being able to stroll around the stalls and see the cows interacting with one another. I was glad to be able to pepper everyone with questions, and no one judged me for asking what was probably a silly question. I was serious about wanting the full experience, but I can't imagine doing what y'all do in the rain, snow, sleet, and so forth. You don't have the luxury to say, ‘No, it's too cold, let’s skip this milking shift.’ Cows don't care; they are your world.”

It’s always a joy to show people around the farm and share our love for cows, especially when you get to provide them with new memories and experiences. The education you, as a dairy farmer, can provide a friend, neighbor, or school group can tremendously broaden their view of our industry.

Molly Schmitt

The author dairy farms with her parents and brother near Hawkeye, Iowa. The family milks approximately 300 head of grade Holstein cows at Windsor Valley Dairy LLC — split half and half between a double-eight parallel milking parlor and two robotic milking units. In the spring of 2020, Molly decided to take a leap and fully embrace her love for the industry by returning full time to her family’s dairy.