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Host a farm tour

Brenda Miller
Extension Educator
June 13, 2015

Welcome to our dairy farm! Your tour guide today will be____!

Do you currently host farm tours for the public or producers? With today's consumers being multiple generations removed from the farm, the importance of giving educational farm tours becomes even more evident. Producers can benefit greatly by seeing your operation as they may be thinking of improvements or modifications to their own facilities.

Why host a farm tour?

Hosting a farm tour can offer an opportunity to showcase modern day dairy practices to the general public. Attendees can learn about where their food comes from, the steps it goes through to get to their table, food safety, and animal husbandry. Minnesota is a leader in the dairy industry. It is the 8th largest milk producing state in the U.S., dairy products are the 4th largest agricultural commodity within the state, and in 2014 Minnesota dairy farms produced 1,061 gallons of milk. In addition, the roughly 3,495 licensed Minnesota dairy farms generate approximately $1.87 billion in annual milk sales.

Today's consumers are removed from the day-to-day workings of a farm but are becoming increasingly involved in health and food safety issues that are ag related. GMOs, rBST, animal welfare, and organic agriculture are just a few topics of interest in the news. However, numerous rules, regulations and safety standards are in place to ensure a safe, wholesome food supply and happy animals. It is our job as producers and agriculture professionals to relay that message. By visiting a dairy farm, consumers can see firsthand the steps producers take to provide the dairy products they all love.

The average consumer doesn't know the dedication it takes to dairy farm and the challenges that dairy producers are faced with every day. They don't know about the government and environmental rules and regulations in place to protect the land and ensure clean water. They don't know the economics and financial aspect of farming and how one piece of machinery can cost twice as much or more than their house is worth!

In a different light, dairy producers like to see fellow operations to get ideas that they may be able to use on their own farms. Maybe your neighbor is thinking about expanding his herd and wants to tour some facilities in the area to get ideas on freestall barn design. Invite them over and share what factors came into play for you when you made your decision. One question I like to ask producers when on a tour is: "If you were to change one thing about your facility what would it be and why?" Would you swap out a feeding rail for headlocks? Maybe add a man pass or two? Modify your gate system to make it more effective/efficient? How do you catch cows to breed them if you don't have headlocks?

Preparing your farm for visitors

It is important to know your audience. A passel of third graders is a whole different ballgame than a group of fellow dairy producers. Set your logistics: date, time, number of attendees, length of tour, and ask if they'd like to see or learn about any specific aspect of your farm. Keep your groups small or get a portable microphone system to make sure everyone in the group can hear you.

Explain how your farm works in ways that your audience can understand. Answer questions as they arise and keep a positive attitude. Have fun and be proud of your farm and what you do for a living. If possible, make a flyer or brochure of your farm and some quick dairy facts that visitors can take home with them. Children can take it home to share with their parents.

Keep safety a priority. Lay down ground rules as soon as the group arrives and point out a few housekeeping tips (bathroom, garbage location) to reduce the risk of accidents. Farms have potential hazards everywhere and inappropriate behavior will not be tolerated. Clean up the farm. Put away any hazardous items: tools, sharp objects, chemicals, and take the keys out of machinery. Steer attendees away from electric fencing, manure pits, and slippery or uneven surfaces. You can use rope or caution tape to keep people in safe areas. Moreover, for biosecurity reasons you can supply disposable boots for attendees to wear on the tour. Keep visitors away from sick animals and if small children can't keep their hands out of their mouths it would be a good idea to keep them away from the baby calves.

Host your county's 'Breakfast on the Farm' or a stop on the University of Minnesota Extension's Successful Dairy Systems Summer Field Days Series. Share your farm, share your knowledge and share your passion for the dairy industry with those who have a thirst for learning.

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