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Consumers got to see how cows are milked at a June Dairy Month tour at MoDak Dairy near Goodwin, S.D. (Michelle Rook/Special to Agweek)

Farmers open their doors during June Dairy Month

GOODWIN, S.D. — During June Dairy Month, farmers opened their doors to the public to show consumers where milk and dairy products come from. One of those is MoDak Dairy, a 2,000 cow operation near Goodwin, S.D.

Co-owner Greg Moes and his family believe that by being transparent they can help consumers understand agriculture. They have been holding these tours for several years "so consumers can see what we're doing and how we produce their milk," Moes says. "Most of them think that it comes from the store. It's more than that."

Consumers got to pet newborn calves and watch as the cows were being milked. Krista Harringa, South Dakota Dairy Princess was also on hand at the event. "A lot of the kids love petting the calves because they've never been up close and personal with calves," she says. In fact, for many consumers this may be their first time on a dairy.

"I have talked to a few of them, and they've never been on a farm," Harringa says. "I think that's what they probably enjoy most — talking to dairy farmers and seeing what it's actually like to be a dairy farmer."

The open houses are also a chance to show the public what dairy farmers do to ensure a safe product. In the parlor, MoDak Dairy employees are meticulous when cleaning the cow's udder and preparing her for milking, and they are careful to only use antibiotics to treat sick animals.

"Antibiotics are used very reserving," Moes says. "Even though we don't get antibiotics in the tank, it is tested so many times that there's no way it can get in there."

At MoDak they're proactive and conduct health checks of cows throughout their life. "They check everything to find out if it's pneumonia or what we have to treat for, so we know we're treating for the right things," he says.

By doing this, antibiotics aren't overused and they are using less antibiotics than they were 10 years ago. They conduct genetic testing to determine the future health profile of offspring. "They're testing for heritability on health traits all the way from lameness, to mastitis, to pneumonia, to pregnancy rates," Moes says.

That same technology is helping MoDak improve the genetics in their herd. They conduct genetic testing when animals are young and use sexed semen on the top 10 percent of their herd. "They're testing the genes and they can tell us with a reasonable amount of accuracy what kind of productive life she'll have," he says.

However, Moes says the most important thing consumers witness at the farm is how well they take care of their herd. "When they go out and see how the animals are taken care of, they are awed when they see that many animals laying in the stalls," he says.

MoDak Dairy has been holding the open houses for several years and Moes says they enjoy having people tour their operation. He's proud of the 40 people he employs and the huge economic contribution they make in the community.