Telling the Dairy Sustainability Story: The Value of Dairy Open Houses as Learning Events to Improve Consumer Understanding of Modern Animal Agriculture

Chris Mondak, Dairy Extension Field Specialist and Leo Timms, Dairy Extension State Specialist

Problem Statement:

A large percentage of the US population lives in an urban or suburban environment, and thus are disconnected from agriculture and food production.  At the same, there is increasing interest and concern in the general population about food safety, quality, and sustainability.  An anxious but uninformed consumer population appears to readily accept viewpoints of anti-livestock/anti-agriculture that are negative about animal care, environmental stewardship, and safety/quality of dairy products.

Dairy producers are increasingly aware of the importance of countering misinformation about their industry and their modern animal husbandry practices.  Their check-off dollars fund product and information efforts such as the US Dairy Industry Sustainability Initiative.  One of the aims of this Initiative is to inform the public and foster consumer confidence in dairy products. The Dairy Sustainability Initiative as shaped by national dairy check-off organizations aims to deliver 2 important messages:

  1. “Sustainable practices involve the production of crops fed to dairy cows, on-farm milk production, transportation and processing. In many ways, dairy farmers are the original environmentalists. They live on the land, they drink the water, and they care for their animals and the soil.”
  2. “The dairy industry is acting responsibly in working to identify economically viable ways to further reduce its carbon footprint.”

Programmatic Response:

ISU Extension workers partnered with Iowa’s dairy producer associations and the regional dairy check-off organization, Midwest Dairy Association, to plan and host Dairy Farm Open House events as part of “June Dairy Month” activities.  The purpose of the summer 2009 Open Houses – one in central Iowa at the ISU Dairy Farm and one in NW Iowa at a large dairy family-owned dairy farm- was to provide an experiential events in line with the theme and philosophy of the Dairy Industry Sustainability Initiative described above.  The Open House coordinators planned Open House events for the general public whereby they could see and learn first-hand about the efforts made daily on modern dairies to achieve cow care, cow comfort and health, hygienic milking procedures, local cropping systems that provide quality feed for the dairy herd, manure management and land stewardship, and respect for family and non-family workers.

At both open house sites, the planning partners planned a walking tour of the dairy. Members of the dairy community—dairy producers and agri-professionals- served as tour guides and narrators.  In this way, guests learned facts about dairy herd management and production directly from the people who work the farm or serve the farm.

Outcome Statement:

Guests at the Open Houses were invited to complete surveys to rate their experience of the dairy tour.  At both events, the survey results were very favorable, and planners indicated success in achieving the goal to improve consumers’ knowledge and understanding about modern dairy farms.  The survey tallies and comments posted below convey the guests’ ratings and comments.
 

Jones Dairy Open House Survey Results
June 30, 2009

Compiled by Tracy Jeltema, Sioux County Summer Program Assistant

1. Overall this dairy house was


170

9

1

 

2

Excellent 4

3

2

Poor 1

No Response

2. Mark the segments of the even you enjoyed the most
Enjoyed it all
Met Wes – nice young man
Liked overall tour
Food - excellent


Meeting the Jones Family

47

Learning about care of the cows and calves

108

Learning about the crops and manure management

40

Learning about the things dairy producers do to provide safe, high quality milk and dairy products

65

Dairy Parlor

65

The Food

28

3. Prior to the event, what was your opinion of modern dairy farms?
I was curious as to what they were really like
    


125

48

8

0

Positive 4

3

2

Negative 1

4. From what you’ve seen today, do you believe dairy farmers are good caretakers of dairy cattle?
This one is!


174

8

0

0

Yes 4

3

2

No  1

5. Do you believe modern dairy farms are protective of the environment?
This one is!


166

14

1

0

1

Yes 4

3

2

No  1

No Response

 

6. After the event, what is your opinion of modern dairy farms?
Impressive


169

12

1

0

Positive 4

3

2

Negative  1

 

7. Would you like to attend other events like this on another type of farm?


161

14

1

3

3

Yes 4

3

2

No  1

No Response

 

8. Additional comments:

  1. Very informative – great information
  2. Very nice operation
  3. Hats off to the Jones for sharing their facility
  4. Very good
  5. Good food
  6. Great
  7. Excellent presentation educational, Thanks so much, Food great
  8. Super – great food and great family
  9. Food was good
  10. Very interesting and nice set-up
  11. Very well organized, liked all parts of tour
  12. Very well organized! Proud of the Jones’ accomplishment of their farm
  13. It was an informative and interesting tour. We learned so much! Thanks for having us!
  14. Impressed
  15. Very interesting – Enjoyed it very much. Food was delicious, everyone was nice
  16. Thanks!
  17. The cows were awesome! They drool a lot, and it feels funny when they lick your hand. I loved the baby cows, they were so cute.
  18. Much improved from the way my parents milked in stations. Thanks! We need more of these to educate the city kids and younger generation.
  19. The Jones family are very friendly and accommodating
  20. Good food, Thank you
  21. I wish the milk prices were higher to compensate dairy farmers for their investment in cattle, facilities, feed and labor.
  22. I never knew this was so close to Okoboji
  23. It was very enjoyable
  24. Big change from milking in the 1940’s
  25. Should have discussed milk price vs. store price
  26. Very good idea for us when dwellers however my grandpa had a dairy farm – Lucas City. As an ISU grad, I’m aware of the Dairy Lyon family J Thanks!
  27. I have sat (at times) in front of the Jones Family at Sunday Mass without knowing you were dairy farmers. I can fully appreciate the hard work. Mrs. Marianne Yancey – Thanks for the tour and the food.
  28. Very informative. Nice to be able to walk through barns and see their first hand information
  29. I believe this opportunity should be open for younger generations in school systems to have the experience of what things/how these things happen.
  30. Awesome! Very informative. The kids and adults enjoyed the tour. Thank you for what you do!!
  31. Very impressive. Very organized. Everyone was very knowledgeable
  32. Have known Pat and Nancy for a long time. Been invited many times but never have made it till today. Probably being retired now makes it easier. Our thanks to the Jones family.
  33. Wish our grandkids were here. Thank you for a great event.
  34. Professionally Done! We lucked out and got Aaron as tour guide!
  35. Very good job.
  36. This dairy would be more the exception than the rule from info. I have seen. Seems very well managed. Hard to beat family businesses!
  37. This was very interesting. The food was excellent. Thank you very much.
  38. Very informative – thanks for sharing the farm with us!
  39. Super great tour! Excellent guides! Thank you!
  40. Super job! Thank You!!!
  41. This was an educational experience for my kids! Thank you to everyone that was involved!
  42. Wish there had been information about the milk drinking and benefits verses pop for kids.
  43. Thanks!
  44. Very clean, well managed farm. Thank You!
  45. To bad more kids can’t see this.
  46. Very good.
  47. I grew up on the farm.
  48. Good food
  49. Top notch family and operation
  50. Thank you for all your preparation for this even. Very good to know about this facility in our area and – the food was great!
  51. Many thanks to the Jones’ family for this very interesting and educational opportunity. We truly enjoyed this.
  52. Very impressive!
  53. Really enjoyable, informative tour for a guy from the city. Thank you.
  54. Very well organized, so interesting – great facility.
  55. So interesting, Jones family a unique commodity!
  56. Very well organized!
  57. I thought that the Jones Dairy took excellent care of all the cows.
  58. After milking cows for 25 years I was very interested in the way things have changed – we use to put the milk in cans and then carry and fill them into a cooling tank – in later years it was piped into the bulk tank. Former farm wife
  59. Very well presented. We had a dairy operation until 1973 – 55 cows, big in those days. Thank you.
  60. Thank you so much for opening your farm for us to see. We really enjoyed it!! Thank you for the lovely meal. Jack and Cheri Eickman J
  61. This was so well done. People were knowledgeable and encouraged questions. Thanks for putting this on. Food was delicious.
  62. Fantastic experience, I’m very impressed with the Jones’ Dairy Farm
  63. AWESOME – very educational – great to see the Jones “kids” back home and in the family business. J
  64. Thanks for all the time you have put into this.
  65. Nice event
  66. Great
  67. Excellent tour, very good presentation
  68. Excellent!!
  69. We all need to support the milking industry – and keep our milk supply local
  70. This was excellent and very informative. Thank you for the opportunity! Very much enjoyed the event.
  71. Was impressed with Jersey Dairy as am use to the black and whites. Thank you.
  72. The dinner was very nice also.
  73. It was very impressive
  74. Good food, well organized
  75. Other than the walking terrain it was a great and informative tour. The instructors did a great job as well.

2009 Dairy Celebration At ISU Dairy Farm – Ames:  A Post-Event Survey

                                                      Results Summary                                                     

 

Overall, the Dairy Celebration was:
            Average = 3.9                         or         97.5%

The portions enjoyed most by the participants:
            Tours                                       164
            Ag Discovery Area                 28
            Food Samples                         51       
            Dairy Parlor                             59
            Live Radio                              22

Opinion of modern dairy farms prior:
            Average = 3.63            or        90.75%

Support the growth of dairy farming in Iowa:
            Average = 3.92           or         98%

Modern dairy farms being protective of the environment:
      Average = 3.82           or         95.5%

Opinion of modern dairy farms after:
            Average = 3.91           or         97.75%

Attend another event on a different type of farm:
      Average = 3.87           or         96.75%

Findings:

Attendees found the event to be worthwhile and would classify it as an A.

The tours were the aspect of the event enjoyed the most by participants.

Participant’s opinion of modern dairy farms was positively increased by 7%.

2009 
110 Dairy

Page last updated: September 30, 2009
Page maintained by Linda Schultz, lschultz@iastate.edu