Informational Dairy Tour Assists O’Brien County Citizens

Chris Mondak, Dairy Field Specialist, Al Grigg, CEED, Terry Janssen, CEED, Carol Schneider, CEED


Economic development and preserving rural vitality are priorities in many Iowa counties. O’Brien County is one of several counties in NW and North Central Iowa that is considering or encouraging dairy farm building as part of its economic development plan.   Good crop and land resources, coupled with the existence of several  small towns in the county that offer schools, churches, trade, health care, and recreation are some of the reasons that some dairy families are drawn to consider O’Brien County as a their new home and farm site.

In November 2006, a dairy farm family interested in relocating to O’Brien County to build a large new dairy farm held a community meeting to explain their plans. During the meeting, many questions were raised, revealing the fact that most county citizens did not have a good understanding about modern dairy farms,  their relationship to the local economy, and current stewardship practices used to manage the dairy cows, the employees, and land resources.

To help fill in this information gap so that citizens could make informed decisions about proposed dairy development/economic development projects,  O’Brien County Economic Development Corporation and ISU Extension coordinated an Informational Tour of local dairies as an educational event.

The tour event began with a 30 minute session in the community center to learn about the economic impact of dairies on the state and local economy from ISU Extension dairy specialist, and from owner of local feed elevator/cooperative. On the bus, citizens learned more about the dairy industry from a local milk processing plant representative, from a REC representative, and from a young owner of a local dairy farm.  The bus took the O’Brien citizens to 3 large dairies similar in size and management style to the proposed project for O’Brien County. On each farm, tour members obtained an overview of the farm lay-out and physical plant, and then gained details first-hand about the  milking parlor, about milk handling and transport practices to ensure good quality, the cow housing area, the feed storage and mixing, area, manure recycling and storage. Also at each farm, tour members met face to face with the owners to ask questions and to learn about the values and priorities that underlie their management practices.


To gauge the impact of this informational tour as a useful educational event, brief pre- and post- questionnaires were used.  Summary of findings:


                                                Pre –Tour                     Post Tour
Low level               12 responses                0 responses
Moderate level       8 responses                 13 responses
High level               6 responses                 16 responses

No change        Moderate change          Large change

Cow housing for health & comfort                  1                      11                                13

Milking center & practices                                1                      14                                9

Feeds & feeding systems                                3                      12                                11

Manure Mgt & facilities                                     2                      14                                9

Sense of dairy site lay-out                                0                      16                                8

Connect between dairy & crop grower          3                      10                                9

Owners & employees                                       2                      14                                8


(Note:  Five tour members are actively involved in dairy or related business, and had high knowledge level about dairies at tour outset. Therefore, these individuals may not have gained much increase or change in their knowledge level.)

Conclusions:  The responses suggest that the tour was useful as an educational experience to gain information about an impending change facing a community. In this case, the proposed change is the entry of larger modern dairies and management practices.  The tour event was effective in helping people understand the proposed project because it placed them in direct contact with a modern dairy and the people that manage them and work there.  It allowed them to ask questions about their concerns, and allowed them to learn the reasons behind modern dairy management practices. It also helped tour coordinators learn more about unmet information needs to address in follow-on work. For example, the predominance of  “moderate” change  in knowledge level might point to areas or topics that need to be further explained.

As university extension works to support economic development via education/information programs, the direct experience event, such as a tour, is a useful part of the overall education method or strategy.


December 2006

110 – Dairy Team


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