By: Bob Meyer
It is one of the largest dairy farms in the country and it is open to the public. Fair Oaks Farms at Fair Oaks, Indiana started out with 15,000 acres in 1998; the first milking parlor was built in 1999. Today the farm is home to 36,500 cows on eleven individual dairies. Ten of the operations have 72-cow rotary parlors and one has an 80-cow unit. CEO Gary Corbett says they have permits to build one more dairy on the site which will take the herd to 40,000.
The farm is a showcase for agriculture, guests are welcomed to a visitor’s center which features interactive stations to teach them about dairy farming before they board the bus for a tour of the farm. Corbett says they looked at what animal activist groups were doing to sway public opinion so they decided to counter that with an up-close look at 21st century agriculture. The visitor’s center was built in 2004 and will welcome more than half-a-million people each year. “People are able to see these animals are treated with care and the environment is treated correctly.”
From an environmental standpoint, all of the manure on the farm goes into five anaerobic digesters. Some of the methane off the digesters is used to generate all of the electricity used on the farm while some of the gas is used in the farms fleet of 45 semi-tanker tractors. Surplus gas is sold into the natural gas line.
The latest addition to the farm is a 3,000-sow farrow-to-wean hog setup. The barn features numerous interactive educational stations and elevated viewing of the gestation pens, farrowing facilities and other pens. Various stops on the viewing walkway are manned by Fair Oaks people ready to explain what is going on and answer questions.
Plans are to build a poultry and egg operation as well as a beef cow-calf facility in the future.
With more-and-more people further removed from the farm, Corbett says agriculture needs to be welcoming and transparent no matter what the size farm you have. “The more you can interact with consumers and school groups and civic groups and politicians, invite them out to your farm, we don’t think there is any better answer to that. You allow them to see the reality of agriculture up-close without distortion.”
Visit the Fair Oaks website here: