CARRINGTON, N.D. - For livestock producers, taking care of their land and animals isn't incidental to their jobs - it's their whole purpose.
"It's something we do everyday," says Kenton Holle, vice chair of the North Dakota Livestock Alliance and a third-generation dairy farmer in Morton County, N.D.
It starts, he says, with making sure animals are safe and comfortable.
"Their care is our primary concern," he says. "We always make sure they have adequate water, free choice. Food is always of high quality and available to them 24/7, and that they've got a good, comfortable place to lay down."
At VanBedaf Dairy in Carrington, each cow has an activity monitor so that workers can keep precise watch on how each of their cows are doing, including how much time they've spent eating, resting and ruminating. The monitors provide information about animal welfare not available to even the most trained eyes.
"Every cow has their own history, and if there's any deviation from their regular pattern ... then we know we should pay attention and go see what's wrong with them," Conny van Bedaf says.
The cows at VanBedaf Dairy use sand bedding that forms to their bodies. Since it's inorganic, there are fewer flies bothering the cows. The sand later goes through a sand separator to remove the manure, and then the sand gets reused as bedding again and again.
Caring for the land also is of the utmost importance. Holle explains he wants to see his son and grandson continue his Northern Lights Dairy into the future, and caring for the land is vital.
One way livestock producers help care for the land is in effectively managing the manure produced by their animals.
VanBedaf dairy has storage for a year's worth of manure. Every year, based on the results of soil samples and manure samples, precise amounts of manure are applied to fields in the spring or fall.
"We don't really see manure as a waste product; we see it as a byproduct, because it's fertilizer," van Bedaf says.
"Manure is a valuable source of plant food," Holle says.
Holle says dairy farmers and others in agriculture work to care for their animals and land because it's the right thing to do. But there is another benefit - it's what consumers want to see and hear.
"There's a big demand right now by consumers to know where their food comes from, and I think that's OK," he says,
Holle says events like LegenDAIRY III, an open house held June 2 at VanBedaf Dairy, help show people how modern livestock facilities operate. People are able to see how content and calm the cattle are and how clean and odor-free the facilities remain.
J.W. Schroeder, a retired North Dakota State University Extension dairy specialist, agrees. Opening up facilities to the public and using social media to tell the positive stories of agriculture make a difference, he says. Such opportunities allow people to see for themselves that operators are doing things right.
"We also want the consumers to feel good about the dairy they buy at the grocery store," van Bedaf says.
Schroeder says VanBedaf Dairy faced some negative opinions when they first got started because people didn't understand the positives it would bring. Now, after 10 years, it's hailed as one of the community's largest employers and a positive addition to the area in the way they care for the livestock and the land.
"They came into the community, and they have exceeded people's expectations," he says. "They give back to the community, and what more could you ask for?"