Oct. 18 2011 09:03 AM

A recent special occasion created an opportunity to educate consumers about dairying.

Last month my sister got married to a nonagricultural young man. He loves being on the dairy, helping feed calves, tossing hay, and milking. He still has a "city job" a state away but still wanted to share his enthusiasm as a new "dairyman." So, the day after the wedding, over 50 guests who had never been on a dairy, got to experience one firsthand.

After lunch, they walked down the hill in small groups to the dairy. I was in the calf barn where they got to see black and white Holsteins and red and white Holsteins which led to a discussion of genetics. (A brother with red hair and parents with black hair helped with this explanation). They asked about the eartags in each of the calves' ears (what the information meant), how to tell the boys from the girls, and how they get their spots. For someone who has given tours since kindergarten, the questions were easy to answer. These guests were curious and excited to learn. They were comfortable asking anything.

In the freestall barn, they learned what cows eat. They saw the wagon that weighs and mixes all the feed, creating a balanced ration in every bite.

dairy cow being milkedThe group then headed toward the milking parlor where milking was just starting. This gave us the opportunity to talk about milk handling. The series of stainless steel pipes transport the milk to the bulk tank where it is kept just below 40 degrees. "From the time the milk leaves the cow and until it is in your glass, it has not been touched by human hands," shows the commitment to high quality standards.

The concept of needing a calm environment and udder preparation was explained. "Cows should be relaxed during the milking process." I then explained how to gently squeeze the teat to squirt milk. They lined up to try for themselves. Later, they could see the milk flowing through the claw and witnessed the short time it took to milk a cow. Our visitors could see the technology in the equipment used in producing milk.

At the conclusion of the tour, one gentleman said, "I now have an appreciation for what goes into producing milk. I don't think the average consumer does."

One mom commented, "You can tell that your entire family has passion for what you do. You can hear it in your voices and the excitement when you speak."

The tour was not rehearsed, and the content came from the heart. It does not have to be a special occasion or a huge group of people. Tell your story with feeling, and it will leave an impression. I can assure you that, even a month later, our invited guests are still talking about what they saw, what they did, and what they learned on a dairy. These educated consumers are now some of our industry's greatest allies to share the positive message of dairy farming.