It’s safe to say Fair Oaks Farms isn’t your average dairy. Located in northwest Indiana, Fair Oaks Farms is dedicated to community and visitor education. The farm provides several activities and attractions for families to tour and learn more about dairy farming. Gary Corbelt, Fair Oaks Farms CEO, said the farm’s team is committed to connecting with the public from the Birthing Barn to Mooville.
In 1998, Fair Oaks purchased 15,000 acres in Indiana and the first barn opened in 1999. Since then, nine more dairies have opened in Indiana and an additional 15,000 acres were added. An eleventh farm will be opening shortly and the plans for a twelfth are being made. In total, the farm owns 36,000 cows in Indiana. The management team also operates several farms in Michigan, Ohio, Oregon and Wisconsin.
Manure produced on the farm goes to anaerobic digesters where biogas of 60-percent methane is produced. This biogas supplies 100 percent of the farm’s electrical needs and the extra is sold back to the grid.
Water is separated from the sand bedding, collected in a separate holding tank, and cleaned with a sulfuric acid scrubber. Once cleaned, duck weed is grown in the water. Duck weed is a grass harvested similarly to cranberries and contains more protein than soybeans or other small grains.
An average of 120 calves are born per day. Heifers are raised onsite until 10- to 12-weeks-old and then shipped offsite. Bull calves are kept for three days. All calves are raised at a central location with 5,000 hutches. With a death loss under 2 percent, the farm’s calf care protocol is important to the calf program’s success.
Cows are milked in a 72-cow Boumatic rotary parlor three times a day. The parlor runs for 22.5 hours every day; the downtime is used for cleaning. With an eight-minute turn around, a cow will milk out in less than six minutes and produce 85 to 86 pounds of milk per day.
Four employees milk each shift. The first is in charge of the pre-dip, the second strips and preps, and the third puts on the units. The fourth employee stands halfway around the carousel to make sure the cows milk out completely.
Fair Oaks employs approximately one person for every 100 to 150 cows on the farms, which adds up to a total of 400 employees. They are provided with housing, offered 401K options, and earn from $35,000 to $40,000 per year. They are also given mandatory vacations.
When asked about his two or three biggest concerns, Corbelt said it wasn’t anything directly related to the farm. Environmental efficiency is important to Fair Oaks Farms. Corbelt said he will consider any opportunity to better impact the environment.
Immigration is his second concern as Fair Oaks employs a 100-percent Hispanic team. He said the legal paperwork is extremely important to ensure employees are legal to work within the U.S.
Lastly, the economy and its effects on dairy prices are always on Corbelt’s mind.
In addition to the everyday farm operations, Fair Oaks Farms connects with visitors through the Adventure Center. Here, visitors can learn where their food comes from and partake in many hands-on learning activities, such as milking a cow.
The farm’s milk is used to produce cheese and ice cream, which can be bought in the store along with farm memorabilia. Before they leave, visitors are welcome to take a farm tour through the barns.
Bos Family Farms
Bos Family Farms, a Fair Oaks Farms business partner, neighbors Fair Oaks Farms and owns about 16,000 cows. The farm is made up of five separate farm sites, each owned by a different brother. Hidden View Dairy, a stop on the Vita Plus Dairy Summit farm tour, started milking cows in 2006.
At Hidden View Dairy, 3,300 cows are milked on a 72-cow rotary parlor. Each cow averages 90 pounds of milk with 3.68 milk fat, 3.03 protein and a 169,000 somatic cell count.
Manure solids are pumped into a methane digester. The solids are then pressed to dry and used for bedding. The methane digester produces approximately 800 kilowatts, which is enough to power the dairy.
The farm also runs 1,350 acres. About 1,100 acres is tillable; fields are planted mostly for corn and corn silage. The other 120 acres is alfalfa. The farm also uses wheat and rye for cover in the winter to allow for manure application in the spring.
Calf Land serves as the central calf facility for Bos Family Farms. The facility includes more than 3,000 hutches and houses 4,500 heifers and 300 bulls.
After 73 days of age, the calves are moved from the individual hutches and into small running pens. Here, the calves will stay for 42 days before moving into large running pens. At 160 days, the calves leave Indiana and go to Q-Ranch in Colorado.
After the calves leave the hutches, the bedding pack is cleaned out and replaced. The pack base is also sloped to increase drainage and keep the calves dry in their hutches.
Calf Land employs 12 people to care for its calves. Nine of those people work with the individual calves in hutches and the other three people work in the running pens.