We have been hosting farm tours for over 20 years. People from all over the world have come to visit our farm to milk a cow and meet a farmer. When they call or email me to make a reservation, often I get the question: How far is your farm from Wisconsin Dells, Madison, Chicago … Every once in a while, I have someone who thinks our farm in Cambridge, Wis., is close to them in their state or country.
    There is a Cambridge, England, and a Cambridge in Minnesota, Illinois, North and South Dakota, and Massachusetts. Often the conversation is funny because the caller is planning a trip or a visit and our farm is much further away than anticipated. Usually there is a lot of laughing and also a wish that they lived closer so they could come without having to drive for hours or have to fly here. I always conclude the conversation by inviting them to come next time when they are in the area.
    Recently, I had a phone call show Massachusetts on the caller ID, so I answered it. The woman politely asked where our farm was located. I said, Cambridge, Wis. “Oh!” she was a little disappointed. She really wanted to come to our farm. So I then said, like I often do, “When you are in Wisconsin, please give me a call to stop in and visit.” I was getting ready to hang up, when she asked, “Does your farm rip the baby cows away from their mothers?” Whoa! Hold on here. This conversation now took a different twist. This woman’s tone turned from pleasant to aggressive in a blink of an eye.
    I have had many years of difficult questions, and often I have had to explain why we do what we do. This just turned from a casual conversation to an educational moment. She went on to say she watched a documentary that showed how horrible farmers are. She even blurted out she had just taken a 5-day-old calf to a local sanctuary in her Lexus to save it’s life.
    She was so excited that it took a while for her to let me get a word in. “Hold on. Excuse me. Just a minute. Can you please give me a moment so I can explain? What happens to these amazing baby calves on our farms isn’t a bad thing. Please let me share with you about when a calf is born on our farm.”
    Education moment kicked into high gear. I explained how the mother cow has been cared for and all the attention we put into feeding and housing, so she can produce the colostrum that is so important to that baby calf. The new baby can weigh 80-120 pounds at birth, and this mom has been very pregnant waiting for this calf, but she is uncomfortable and often doesn’t eat much before giving birth. After this cow calves, it is critical she gets something to eat, and also the baby, too. This was something she didn’t know about that wasn’t explained in the documentary. I spoke about how important colostrum is and the immunity it gives that baby, the same as in humans.    
    I continued on. That calf could get very sick and die if left in the birthing area. Cows poop. Manure has a lot of germs; bacteria, salmonella, listeria, and e-coli are what that calf is potentially able to get right after birth. In humans, that can make us sick and even cause us to die, too. I took time explaining that a calf stands within minutes after being born, and anything that calf’s nose touches, it will try to suck, just as an infant child searches for milk when we touch their cheek. Farmers are protecting that calf and insuring it gets the best start by giving it colostrum after birth with a clean, sanitized bottle.
    If left with the mother cow, there isn’t an inspection to make sure that calf is getting healthy milk. There isn’t a gauge on the cow to show how much the calf has drank. Calf care is critical, and every farmer is doing this to make sure that baby has the best chance of survival. This didn’t seem to faze this woman. The documentary had given hard facts that were difficult for me to dispute.
    “What do you do with the boy calves? You kill them.” “In this documentary, it said a cow in the wild could live 20 years, and you farmers kill them before they are 5 years old.” I said, “There really aren’t any wild dairy cows. They have been domesticated from water buffalo, and even in India, where cattle are sacred, they don’t live 20 years.” “People can live to be 100, but most of us won’t live that long.” I was rambling on, trying hard to get her to listen and see that perhaps there are two sides to the story. It was clear that this lady didn’t eat beef, but I asked anyway. “Do you eat beef?” “No, my doctor told me if I wanted to lose weight, I should avoid all red meat.” So I asked how she is able to get the protein and iron in her diet, she said tofu gives her all she needs.
    I took a moment to explain that soybeans grow in farmer’s fields and they need to have nutrients also to grow. Soybeans don’t just grow wild, they are farmed. Farmers are going to use the natural fertilizers first, cow manure, before they use city waste, and then it would be chemical fertilizers so their soil stays healthy. It is a system where everything is connected. All farm products benefit from each other. It is a circle. Soybeans grow in farm fields, cows and people eat them with a balanced diet to keep them healthy and strong. The manure from the cows is used to fertilize the soil, so the soil is enriched with nutrients for the soybeans. That is the whole farm to plate system.
    Speaking as calmly as possible, I said that it is her choice not to eat beef, but many of us enjoy eating beef, and understand that the nutrient rich products are coming from our farms. Athletes especially know the importance of a diet rich in protein and iron, this keeps them healthy. All people need to have a good source of healthy food.     
    Then I thought of something that I was certain she would not have been told in the documentary. “Just because you don’t eat beef, doesn’t mean that you are not using by-products from the cattle industry.” This was the statement that started to turn the tide. “Animal by-products are everywhere.”
    “By-products can be the leather shoes on your feet, your car seats, your purse or belts. There are many other products you buy such as; pharmaceutical products, lotion, hair conditioner, nail polish, make up and perfume, that is made with animal by-products.” (And I clearly knew that these are products that she was using regularly by her tone and that she seemed to be affluent when she said she was driving a Lexus, in Cambridge, Ma.) This was something she didn’t know how to react to.
    I went on to let her know that it is OK for her not to eat beef or drink milk. That is her choice. And, just because she chooses not to eat it doesn’t mean she should be entitled to be a make statements when she isn’t fully aware of the facts. I encouraged her to look for a farm she could visit to see the passion we have for our animals. Most people trust farmers to know what is best for our animals. Farmers have been growing food for everyone since the beginning of time. It doesn’t matter what kind of farmer – we all grow food for you. The United States has the safest and most affordable food supply in the whole world.
    My concluding push for beef was that in starving countries when poor people that have lived on beans and rice are finally able to make enough money to feed their children a healthy diet, it includes meat. Beef has always been the best choice because it is rich in protein and iron. They also drink milk for the calcium and other nutrients to help their children grow. These changes alone in their diets decrease infant mortality and improve their lives. Farmers make this all happen and it is important to hear and see their side of the food story.
I did mention that if she is ever in Wisconsin, look us up in Cambridge. If she has any other questions, I would be happy to answer them. And please feel free to call me at any time.
    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.