Brad Perkins explains areas of the freestall barn May 31 during a tour for a kindergarten class from nearby Red Wing, Minn. 
Brad Perkins explains areas of the freestall barn May 31 during a tour for a kindergarten class from nearby Red Wing, Minn. PHOTO BY KRISTA KUZMA
    RED WING, Minn. – For one week each year, the Perkins family’s dairy turns into a class room.
    For the past 20 years, they have offered farm tours to the kindergarten class in Red Wing, Minn. The family owned farm is milking 1,100 cows three times a day. The farm consists of patriarch and matriarch, Larry and Carol, who are semi-retired. Their sons and daughters-in-law, Brad and Pam, and Tom and Kim, are the fifth generation to run the farm, while Tom and Kim’s son and daughter-in-law, Tim and Samantha, in addition to Brad and Pam’s son and daughter-in-law, Jake and Kelsey, are the sixth generation. Tim and Samantha have three kids: Carson, Maize and Marcus. Jake and Kelsey have two children: Ari and Aaron.
    “We originally got started [with the tours] because one of the kindergarten teachers was in FFA with me back in high school, and she was always interested in sharing that story with her students,” Brad said.
    The farm hosts 250 students in a four-day span. Last year, the Perkins family had a total of 10 classes visit. This year, they had eight classes come to the farm – two classes a day for a one hour tour.
    “My favorite part is getting a chuckle out of the questions that the students ask,” Brad said.
    Kelsey and Brad lead the tours with Brad showing the students the milking parlor and freestall barn area, while Kelsey shows the children the calf barn and the tractor.
    “This is one of my favorite weeks of the year,” Kelsey said.
    In the double-25 parallel parlor, Brad explained that their cows produce about 10,000 gallons of milk, which is transported through a pipeline to the basement where the bulk tanks are placed. The milk is about 100 degrees Fahrenheit when it comes out of the cow, so it is quickly cooled to 45 degrees and then held at 38 degrees until the milk truck comes to take the milk. Their milk goes to the DFA plant in Zumbrota, Minn., which supports Taco Bell Chains, Kelsey said.
    “Can we touch it?” one of the students asked.
    Brad happily obliged letting each student have a chance to touch the bulk tank and feel the difference in milk temperatures.
    When touring the freestall barn, Brad asked the students how much they thought a cow ate a day. Their immediate response was one billion pounds, but Brad explained that cows eat 100 pounds a day while also drinking 50 gallons of water, almost a whole bathtub full. Brad went on to explain the sprinklers, which keep the cows cool, and the activity monitors around the cows legs which keep track of the cows’ steps and temperature.
    “That’s one of our main tools for getting cows pregnant,” Brad said.
    When taking the students to the maternity area of the barn, Brad explained that 10 calves were born in the last three days. The normal average is three to four calves each day.
    When Kelsey started the calf tour, she had the students unplug their noses and take a deep breath of fresh farm air which is an idea that she got from their veterinarian.
    “That’s what fresh farm air smells like,” Kelsey said.
    She explained that each calf gets colostrum and vaccinations within the first four hours of birth and then gets 2 gallons of milk a day. The Perkins family uses their own milk rather than milk replacer.
    “It really sets them on the right foot for the rest of their lives,” Kelsey said about the colostrum and vaccines.
    Each of their calf barns house calves at different ages with one age range being from 3 weeks to 2 months old and another being 2 months to about 6 months old.
    Kelsey said the oldest cow on the farm is about 10 years old.
    On the farm, there is a total of 2,000 animals with the males being picked up every week.
    They also farm 1,500 acres of alfalfa, triticale, oats, corn and soybean.
    Following the calf barn tour, Kelsey allowed each of the students to climb into a tractor to take a look.
    Both Brad and Kelsey thought the farm tours went well this year, and they are proud of what they are doing.
    They hope the kindergartners are learning from the tour. In addition to visiting the farm, the students have a farm unit and books they make for class.
    “It used to be no farm tour was complete without at least one teacher getting splattered in the face with manure, but this year no teachers were splattered,” Brad said.
    Even with the splatters, the Perkins family hopes opening their farm every year helps teach the students a little more about dairy.