September 9, 2023 at 8:00 a.m.
Even when it is hot, a tour hits the spot
The forecast was right about the heat and the humidity.
85 degrees is enough to make me melt just walking. The temperatures were all above what we expected when the bus of YMCA campers set foot on the farm last week. Sweaty kids lathered with sunscreen and equipped with water bottles and bagged lunches came into the shed for the farm tour safety speech and welcome introduction. Many of these campers had been to our farm before, and they remembered the rules from the previous years and all the fun they had while visiting a real dairy farm.
The building is cool with good insulation and a concrete floor. There are plenty of picnic tables for the campers to sit, relax and listen.
We had three hours to take a wagon ride, go through the milkhouse, check out the robots milking the cows, pet cows and hand milk a cow. We finished with checking the calves before lunch. Sounds like a great plan. But with these high temperatures, we had to make sure we had water breaks and time to cool down when needed.
Even with the bright sun, there was a light breeze to make the wagon ride enjoyable. We stopped in the shade of the grain bin to talk about the corn in the field. We explained how corn pollinates and that some of it will be for corn silage and some for shell corn. Every question I asked, I got answers. Some of these kids from Rock County are farm kids or grandchildren of farmers; others live by corn and soybean fields. It made me feel honored that these campers knew so much about the rural communities they live in. They spoke with confidence and pride.
Giving a tour in the milkhouse was so much easier when one young man mentioned his grandpa is a milk hauler and he gets to ride with him. I let him loose. He took the whole group through what happens when the milk truck pulls into the farm, where the hose goes, the sample bottles and measuring the milk with the dipstick, and all about going to the processing plant. I am certain he will be a great milk hauler someday. We added to the conversation by explaining all about the different dairy products that they love with ice cream being a favorite, followed by yogurt and chocolate milk.
We headed into the barn with the fans blowing and the misters on. It was comforting to know that I wouldn’t have to mention that if it didn’t smell like cows, we wouldn’t be a real farm. The misters on the fans were a cool down area for the kids, along with the cows, who were standing nearby trying to lick their hands when they reached to pet them. Those cow tongues can reach really far, and it was rewarding for me to hear the campers giggle and laugh when they were licked.
While watching the robots, the older kids remembered about the computer screen to look for the cow’s name, what lactation or how many babies she has had, and how much milk she was going to give. They all cheered when Alice gave more than her goal of 43 pounds. After leaving the robot room, Alice went to the feed bunk to get more attention from the group.
Everyone reached out to see what cow would let them touch her. Cows that have special names such as Pikachu, Sonic and Peppa have been spoiled since they were born and wait for the kids to give them some love. Kids loving cows, wanting to touch and milk a cow, is such a special moment. The camp staff made sure to get photos of every child milking Esta. She loves being the tour cow.
The whole group walked to see the calves as the turkeys, geese and ducks gobbled, hissed and quacked back as the kids talked turkey and duck. Some of these kiddos are turkey hunters, too, and they imitated hen and tom turkey calls.
The calves greeted everyone by coming up to say hello. They stuck their heads out of the gates to get snuggled or to suck on fingers. That tickling tongue is so sticky and slimy, even the camp staff had to see what it felt like. This gave everyone a great reason to do a thorough washing of hands before lunch.
This was an amazing day for everyone. I loved that the students who were here before retained what had been taught during their previous visits and inspired the others through their excitement and knowledge. This is what makes giving farm tours worthwhile. Sharing our farm, the animals and the experience will be something these students will talk about for the rest of their lives. We give them a reason to want to drink milk, eat ice cream or maybe even become a farmer themselves. This was truly a dairy good day.
Tina Hinchley, her husband Duane and daughter Anna milk 240 registered Holsteins with robots. They also farm 2,300 acres of crops near Cambridge, Wisconsin. The Hinchleys have been hosting farm tours for over 25 years.