Can you imagine a world without milk, butter and cheese? I can’t even go there. Thanks to the many hard-working dairy farmers out there, we don’t have to. I want to introduce you to one of these dairy farmers, Dane Lang. Along with his family, Dane runs a fifth-generation dairy farm in Brooklyn, Iowa where they milk about 700 cows every day, three times a day.
My husband and I were first introduced to Dane’s family about nine years ago. We have a custom hay grinding business and the Lang family has been a loyal customer from day one. When I first started my blog a couple of years ago, I knew I wanted to feature different farmers and I also knew that I wanted this particular family farm to be one of them. It’s not very often that you can find a family business where three generations are actively involved and living on the farm. Dane’s grandfather, Maynard, still lives on the farm and comes out to check on things every day. Dane’s father, uncle and brother are all part of the operation. Like most family farms, the dynamics of running a business with family can make things interesting to say the least. But this dairy farm’s rich heritage makes it extra special and I’m excited to share an inside look with you.
If you were to follow Dane around for a couple of hours like I did one Sunday afternoon, I think you would be blown away with the technology they use and the accuracy with which they run their operation and monitor the health of their animals. More importantly, I think you would have a whole new respect for what it takes to manage a dairy farm (Dane would tell you the animals are much easier to manage than the people). I know I sure do.
Dane’s day starts before 6 am, getting the crew going for the first milking. Once everything is up and running, he heads inside for some breakfast at about 7 am. Then he spends the next few hours checking the health of the cows and breeding those that have come into heat.
Talk about multi-tasking! In this photo, Dane is breeding a cow while talking on the phone, without missing a beat. I was super impressed by this . . . I usually struggle to boil water while talking on the phone at the same time.
Other members of the farm are doing chores like feeding and moving manure. The whole crew takes a lunch break from noon to 1 pm. The rest of the day is consumed with more chores, milking and various other tasks of running a business. The cows get milked at 6 am, 2 pm and 10 pm, every single day, without exception.
Arguably, my favorite part of my time with Dane was getting to meet his dog, Ted. Ted is a two-and-a-half-year-old Border Collie. He works about four hours a day, helping Dane move cows to where they need to be in order to be bred. Dane described Ted as the best employee he can find. “He’s easier to train and work with than a human because he loves to work and doesn’t talk back.”
Q&A with Dane
How did your family farm get started?
Our farm was purchased in 1851 by my grandmother’s great grandfather. My grandmother was raised by her grandfather here at the home farm. When he passed away, my grandfather bought as much of the farm as he could. In those days, farmers raised everything, dairy cows, hogs, chickens, cattle, sheep, etc. My dad, Craig, went off to college and when he came home, they started to focus more on dairy.
Did you always know you wanted to farm?
No. I didn’t want to farm. My plan was to go to law school. But, in 2009, I was laid off in the economic downturn so I came back home to the farm. I did the breeding of the cows at that time and I thought, I’ll just stay here for nine months to see what I’ve made. Then the calves were born and I thought, I’ll just stay for two more years to see the growth and development of these calves’ calves. I’ve been here ever since.
It’s a lot more challenging than I expected. To run a dairy, you have to manage humans, not just animals. That can be the most challenging part. You have to understand tax laws, labor laws, OSHA requirements, etc. so it’s a highly managed type of farming operation. Our employees are Hispanic and they don’t speak English. But that’s okay because on a dairy farm, we have a language all of our own. They don’t need to speak English, they speak dairy so we get along fine and they understand what to do.
How has farming changed since your grandfather was in your shoes?
All industries specialize for efficiency. Farming is no different. Our farm here is specialized for milking only. The bull calves are sold and someone else specializes in raising them. We used to raise the heifers but we don’t do that anymore. Our neighbor down the road raises the heifers instead. My brother, Cade, and I raise a certain age group of heifers at a different location. This specialization is all a function of the margin and government regulations.
How do you use technology on your farm?
We use activity monitors on every single cow. They monitor their activity 24/7 so we know exactly what is going on with each animal at any given time. We track when they’re coming into heat and know exactly when the right time is to breed them. We know when conception takes place so we’re not just guessing. The monitors help us monitor their overall health. For example, they monitor if they’re chewing their cudd. If a cow is chewing her cudd, she’s healthy. If she’s not chewing her cudd, that’s a good signal that she’s not healthy for some reason. Before technology like this, we had to guess at everything. Now we know exactly what’s going on with each animal at any given time.
Here is a close up of the activity monitors the cows wear around their necks.
As a young mom myself, I often get questions from fellow moms about what is and isn’t safe to buy at the grocery store. As a dairy farmer, what do you want moms to know?
That everything they’ve been told about saturated fat the last 60 years in incorrect. Whole fat is healthy fat and cheese and milk will always be healthier than pop and chips.
I also want them to know that dairy is safe. On our dairy farm, we are inspected by someone about every one to two months. About every 5 months we are inspected by the state of Iowa in order to be able to sell milk. The federal government can inspect us at any given time without notice. A cheese plant that buys our milk inspects us too, mostly for animal welfare reasons. The Department of Natural Resources inspects us. Most of these inspections are not from the government; they are demanded by consumers and we get a premium for allowing the inspections.
The products that we enjoy every day and take for granted are only possible because farmers like Dane have chosen not just a job, but a lifestyle that is rewarding, yes, but is also unforgiving, stressful and challenging. The next time you drink a glass of milk or eat a slice of cheese, take a moment to think about all the tireless work that went into the making of that product.
THANK YOU to all the dairy farmers out there and a very special thank you to Dane for opening your barn doors and sharing your story with us!