It has been awhile since we have gotten off the farm and done something of interest to all of us. A few weeks ago, I went with my husband, Duane, and our daughter, Anna, on an outing to Indiana. It was an educational trip sponsored by Purina to visit Fair Oaks, a popular farm that promotes the dairy industry along with The Pork Education Center and Winfield’s new crop exhibit.
    According to the schedule, we would be eating lunch in the conference center, touring the exhibits and traveling to see the cows being milked in a carousel parlor, followed by returning to the conference center for dinner and listening to several speakers and concluding the day by heading to the hotel.
    The next day was equally exciting because we would be touring Herrema’s farm which milks with a carousel and robots. We would finish our trip by heading to Racine, Wis., to tour the Case IH tractor plant. We were all pumped up, looking forward to a great couple of days away from our cows to see other cows and different milking systems. Along with all of that, we were traveling with other dairy farmers.
    We had to get up earlier than normal to get milking and chores done so we could leave the farm. When we pulled into the park-n-ride area, we were greeted by dairy farmers. Everyone was smiling and chit-chatting.
    Just getting off the farm is a big deal for dairy farmers, but when we can go together, it always seems extra special. I enjoy meeting other farmers and hearing about their families and farms. There were new faces and many that I have known for years.
    We had a few hours to drive to Indiana, and most of us were quiet as we were sitting back pleased that someone else was driving. Some were sleeping, listening to music on their phones, or just staring out the window. It wasn’t long before the donuts, apples and snacks started to be passed around. This interaction got all of us talking with each other and made any hunger disappear.
    This was going to be my second visit to Fair Oaks, but Anna has been here many times with Cambridge FFA.
    Since we host farm tours, I appreciated the information and fun environment. In the dairy education center, there is a cow with a southern accent that talks pleasantly about herself, a cow with a milking machine and many hands-on activities with facts to read. The highlight of this building is a birthing area, so people can watch a calf being born. We were told families will stay all day watching calves being born. The other buildings are brightly decorated and filled with fun things to do. All areas are brimming with loads of positive messages saying good things about agriculture. This is what this adventure at Fair Oaks is about: Teaching others about agriculture.
    There was not a crowd, and we were free to check out the other buildings before we headed off to the cow spotted bus to see the farm and cows. There was a guide who told us about the manure digester as we drove by. She spoke about the freestall barn and mentioned the cows are eating healthy food, laying in wonderful beds, and we could even see the cows walk to the carousel parlor to be milked. We were delivered by the bus to the milking facility where we climbed up steps to view the milking from above the cows. It was interesting to listen to the dairy farmers and the nutritionists. “She is a first lactation cow.” “That one looks a little rough.” “She is a big cow.” They look at their cows with critical eyes. That is how we keep our cows healthy, noticing the ones that are having problems so they can get the care they need to stay productive.
    I ventured to ask the same question that I had asked years back when I looked out at the cows in the carousel. The gal was standing in the corner by the exit, and I asked, “What happens to these cows when they are no longer productive?” She hesitated and said, “They get marketed.” I played dumb, and said, “To who?” She replied, “McDonald’s.” Her tone implied a negative message as if that is a bad place for our dairy beef to go.
    Where would the dairy industry be without McDonald’s and other food companies buying our animals when we have decided that they need to leave our herd?
    This is a subject I discuss with nearly every group we host on our farm. It was unfortunate that this tour guide missed an opportunity to share that these animals are beef and many other products. This is lean ground beef, ground chuck, leather boots, belts, jackets, pharmaceuticals, anti-aging creams and the list goes on. Every cow that is marketed must be antibiotic-free, too. Dairy producers understand the importance of traceability and that our animals represent our farms. Any animal that is medicated, sick or not mobile doesn’t go to market. With all the antibiotic-free labeling, this is a subject consumers need to be reassured about. All food at the grocery store is antibiotic-free.
    This tour guide did at least know they were marketed. The first time I visited Fair Oaks and asked the same question, the guide gave reference that when the cows leave the farm they go where all the animals go. Does that mean they go to heaven?
    Tina Hinchley, her husband, Duane, and their daughters, Anna and Catherine, milk 135 registered Holsteins and farm 2,500 acres of crops near Cambridge, Wis. They have been hosting farm tours for over 20 years.