My daughter, Anna, got back from a trip to California with a group of Collegiate Farm Bureau members on Monday and sent me photos while she waited at the airport.
    “Four more days this week and then spring break!”
    The novel coronavirus was changing plans for many travelers. There were not many at the airport.
    Anna is looking forward to being done with school. I have been listening to her say she is tired of college life, tests and wants to come home. Graduation cannot come soon enough.
    Tuesday morning, I got a text from her.
    “Universities are canceling classes until the end of the month, or they are all going online. Ohio State, Princeton and many others. I hope Madison does too.”
    Wednesday afternoon she wrote, “School is online until April 10.”
    She had one important test to take on Thursday. She sent a photo of her classroom that was empty except for four other students.
    “There is nobody on campus today. It is a ghost town.”
    She started to pack up her belongings shortly afterwards and was home for lunch. She did not waste any time getting off campus and back to the farm.
    With all of the schools closing, the teachers that are usually out to our farm for spring tours are not making reservations. My calendar looks so empty. However, I got a call on Friday from three University of Wisconsin-Madison college seniors who wanted to visit a farm before heading back home. I scheduled Kat, Talia and Daisy to come at the same time as a couple visiting Wisconsin who have always wanted to milk a cow.
    This couple was so excited about milking they arrived 50 minutes early. I was talking to them in the barn when Anna called to say the college students had been dropped off by their Uber driver, and she would bring them to me. I went out to greet them and broke into their conversation when Anna was saying, “When cows are content, they are quiet.” I could read Anna’s face that she was not thrilled about being asked, “Do you take care of your cows? Do they ever get to leave the barn? If they don’t leave the barn, then they are not really happy.”
    I swooped in and joined the conversation to relieve the situation. I did not know if Anna knew these girls from school and hinted if she wanted to give the tour. She gave me the look with teeth clenched and a fake smile.
    “No, thank you. Can you please explain housing first?”
    She turned around and left these young ladies with me to convince them that our cows are happy, healthy and content.
    I took them to the milk house first and discussed how every tank on every farm is sampled to ensure all the dairy products in the United States are antibiotic free. I took time explaining that rBST is no longer used on any farm. I had them feel the warmth of the pipeline because the milk from the cows goes into the filter, is chilled by the plate cooler and into the bulk tank down to 38 degrees. It is all about food safety, and every farmer is required to do this. They stood listening to every word I was saying.
    I then spoke that cows are mammals like us. They must have a baby before their bodies can make milk. This was news to them. They began to soften and were curious about the cows. I gave them all booties to cover their shoes, and we walked right out by the cows. The cows were very curious about them, sniffing and trying to lick them.
    Out came their phones, and the photos of the cows’ noses and tongues. We talked about how some cows are very friendly, some are shy, and some hear my voice and will come from the other side of the barn to see me. The cows know their farmers just like farmers know our cows.
    The visit in the robot barn left them blown away. They did not believe that cows love to be milked until they witnessed it themselves. The cows were lined up to get into the robot and hanging out afterwards. There were cows visiting each other, eating and then resting on their bed, chewing cud, making milk so they could come back to the robot to get milked again. Amazing.
    We have a special pen where visitors can hand milk a cow. Ashlee, cow No. 90, was in the stall, chewing her cud. They petted her and took selfies with her. I took out my phone and was able to give them all of the information about her.
    She is 5 years old and has calved three times already. She is due to have her next calf July 24. She had twins last July 23.
    “She is pregnant right now, and she is still making milk?”
    I felt Ashlee’s side, and rubbed it.
    “Yes, cows are super moms, and they have a super power to make feed into milk. Ashlee is still making nearly 10 gallons a day.”
    Kat, Talia, and Daisy were all smiling and clearly have changed their thoughts about dairy farmers in the hour tour.
    They all took turns squirting her milk into their hands. Feeling the warm milk and also feeling very good about how happy Ashlee is in our barn. Before leaving, they asked if they could feel her belly to see if they could feel the calf moving.
    It was a very good experience for them to visit a Wisconsin dairy farm before they headed to the East. Kat was from New York City, Talia from New Jersey, and Daisy was from Brooklyn, New York. They met each other at college. They do not know if they will be back to the graduation ceremony because of COVID-19, but this visit to the farm left them feeling good about the dairy farms in Wisconsin.
    I got a thank you note from them a week later saying they could not stop talking about the tour, and that it made them so proud to be a part of the Wisconsin community. They were grateful to have such an authentic experience, and they will carry it with them for the rest of their lives. And yes, the cows in barns are really happy.
    Tina Hinchley, her husband, Duane, and their daughters, Anna and Catherine, milk 240 registered Holsteins with robots. They also farm 2,300 acres of crops near Cambridge, Wisconsin.  They have been hosting farm tours for over 20 years.