Originally published in PivotPoint summer 2013
Register TODAY for a FREE Valley Field Day at Fair Oaks Farms on Monday, August 26! Visit www.valleyirrigation.com/FD2013for more information and to register!
On Interstate 65, between Chicago and Indianapolis sits an unlikely tourist attraction – a working dairy with about thirty thousand head of cattle and twenty thousand acres of cropland. Fair Oaks Farms has become a destination for schoolchildren and families to learn about the source of their food – especially milk, cheese and ice cream – by creating the Fair Oaks Dairyland Adventure.
“People don’t know where their food comes from,” says Robert den Dulk, Irrigation and Wastewater Manager. “One of the goals of Fair Oaks Farms it to educate the public about that.”
“It’s one of the largest dairies in the United States,” explains Valley Territory Manager, Dave McAlpin. “They have done a really great job of marketing to the public. On any given day, there are six to eight school buses in the parking lot. The kids can learn how cows digest food, watch them being milked, and even see calves being born.”
About 80 calves are born every day at Fair Oaks Farms. With so many mouths to feed, they grow corn, beans, alfalfa, and wheat, most of which is used to feed their own cattle.
In fact, Fair Oaks Farms is as self-sufficient as a farm can be, with a closed-loop system. Their land produces the food for the cattle. The cattle produce – along with the necessary milk for their dairy products – waste and methane. The methane goes to digesters that aid in creating the electricity for the farm and fuel for their trucks. The waste goes into the wastewater management system that, in turn, provides nutrients for the land.
21 pivots are tied in to their wastewater system. “Everything we can get to with our pipes is tied in, because we don’t have to add any other nutrients when we have our fresh and wastewater mixed.
“We’ve got 31 pivots and two linears on our crops, all managed under a Valley BaseStation” says den Dulk. “We use BaseStation every day to make sure we know what our machines are doing and to be able to address the specific machines that need attention on a timely basis.”
Ralph Mercier, owner of Mercier Valley, designed the wastewater distribution center for Fair Oaks Farms.
“They have four locations of wastewater ponds, by each dairy,” Mercier explains. “We wanted to tie it all together, even miles away, so we made a central location at the central dairy and incorporated a pump system to get the fresh/wastewater mix to the fields. The longest run is two and a half miles.”
A little more than half of the pivots are tied in to the wastewater distribution center, and den Dulk says there’s no need to fertilize any of those fields beyond that. “We’d like to reach all of the rest of the pivots at some point, but for now they’re just too far away. In the future, we may be able to tie them all in.”
The future is wide open for Fair Oaks Farms. They plan to expand their operation to include pigs, chickens, horses and fish. “We’ve got big expansion plans to keep making it bigger and better,” says den Dulk, “even adding a convention center and water park.”
McAlpin adds, “They do a great job of marketing to the public while running a successful large scale operation. It’s a pretty neat combination.”
The Fair Oaks Dairy Adventure®
Since its inception, Fair Oaks Farms has made it a goal to educate the public in a unique and fun way – and they do it well. Their Dairy Adventure lets people see and experience sustainable dairy farming, from witnessing the birth of a new calf to touring the dairy to attempting to prep a fiberglass cow for milking in 19 seconds. It’s unusual to find a place that can educate people about silage and host birthday parties for kids! Find out more at www.fofarms.com.