Herd of cows side by side together in the green pasture, cute and nosey under a cloudy sky

Innovating From Humble Beginnings

Country Dairy’s story began more than a hundred years ago in New Era, Michigan. Milk from their eight cows was picked up and sold daily. As time passed, and the farm changed hands, the level of production grew. Now the dairy farm produces anywhere from 60,000 to 70,000 gallons of milk weekly and distributes to roughly 500 stores throughout the state and beyond.

“Farming doesn’t have to be limited to the red barn behind your house. To keep competitive, we embraced technology and innovated while keeping based in our principles and quality.” Explained Jeff Swanson, Promotion Manager for Country Dairy.

Improvements to efficiency can go much deeper than simply replacing lightbulbs with LEDs (which they have done). In the pre-planting season, soil samples are taken from their fields which are then plotted into a data base that will then use GPS in their tractors to selectively fertilize, rather than canvasing the entire plot unnecessarily with redundant nutrients. Perhaps the most interesting technological development began two years ago, marking the moment when the cows at Country Dairy were milked entirely by robots. The results of this switch may surprise you.

“You would think that removing the human interaction for that of a robot during the milking process would make the cows more anxious, but it turns out that they are much more rested, relaxed, and content,” explains Jeff.

The cows decide when they are ready to be milked. No more being brought into a holding pen when a person decides the time is right. Instead, they voluntarily step into the robotic milker which reads the cow’s RFID collar and the milking process for that cow begins with a thorough cleaning and health screening.

“The machine records and stores data for all of the roughly 1,200 Holsteins we are currently milking. Variables like temperature, time of day for production, fat content, protein, and more are screened from the cow’s milk and measured against our standards before the process continues,” Jeff says. “We are even able to identify when a veterinarian’s visit might be required, much earlier than we used to be able to detect.”

This technological advancement has marked an uptick in milk quality and the overall quantity produced by the happy Holsteins.
“I milked our cows for three years in my early days on the farm. They are without a doubt more relaxed and content now,” describes Jeff. “This is just one more step a dairy farmer can take towards creating a better environment for their cows.”

“This is just one more step a dairy farmer can take towards creating a better environment for their cows.”

Due to concerns with COVID-19 and social distancing, 2020 will mark the first time in twenty years that Country Dairy will not be celebrating National Dairy Month with an elaborate community event.

“We made the decision last week to cancel our annual ice cream social. We’re pretty bummed, but it was the right thing to do,”
The Country Dairy farm store is still open to visitors, but the festivities that normally draw thousands are on hold this year.

“Typically, we would have 4,000 – 6,000 people show up to our farm for free ice cream, tours, and fun activities. It was the mark of summer for us and our way of giving back to the community.”

Many of the larger events Country Dairy would sponsor and be present at have been cancelled as well.

“Normally we would sponsor concerts and set up our ice cream tents. It was our favorite part of summer. Who doesn’t like putting smiles on people’s faces with ice cream?”

“It was our favorite part of summer. Who doesn’t like putting smiles on people’s faces with ice cream?”

To further build on Country Dairy’s propensity for innovation, they began developing alternatives to many of the popular ice cream flavors kids adore (like Superman) using only natural flavors and colors.

“Some kids normally don’t get to enjoy certain flavors of ice cream because of their allergies to ‘red dye 40’ for instance. I love being able to tell parents that we have alternatives that are all natural.”

Coming from humble beginnings ourselves, we are happy to acknowledge and celebrate the innovative approach and genuine care for the community that Country Dairy demonstrates daily. Thank you Country Dairy, and thank you to all of the other dairy farmers throughout our community, as we recognize National Dairy Month!

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