From schoolchildren to politicians, Vir-Clar Farms hosts a variety of groups looking to learn more about modern dairy production, and the addition of a new visitor center right on the dairy will take that experience to a whole new level.
Giving tours is just one of many responsibilities that falls on Katie (Boyke) Grinstead’s plate since returning home to join her parents, Gary and Rose Boyke, and brother J.R. Boyke on the family farm near Fond du Lac, Wisconsin.
Her day-to-day responsibilities include everything from managing finances in the office to rolling up her sleeves to wash calf hutches, but the tours, she says, “That’s the fun part for me.”
So when the dairy expanded last year, an official visitor center was included in the design. This spacious area built just off of the milking parlor is the perfect platform for Grinstead to tell the story of how her family farm has grown from just 50 cows to 2,000.
The arrangement provides a dedicated room for tour groups where they can hear about the dairy and experience some hands-on learning activities before seeing it for themselves.
Giving guests a “real” experience on the dairy is important to Grinstead, yet she wanted to keep them at a safe distance from the cows in the parlor and out of the milkers’ routine. “We wanted to give people the feeling of being in the parlor without being in the pit,” she says.
For this reason, the front of the parlor is built out to provide a platform for viewing the milking process, while she uses a life-size fiberglass cow for demonstrations. A purchase from the Professional Dairy Producers (PDPW) Business Conference a few years back, “Rosie,” has a permanent home in the Vir-Clar visitor center, where she stands on a rubber mat for comfort.
A teat scrubbing brush and milking machine – complete with working vacuum and pulsation – are available for people to try their hand at modern-day milking.
Visual aids around the room serve as talking points for Grinstead to educate visitors about the dairy. A display of aerial photos illustrates the farm’s history and progression, accompanied by other pictures that highlight the dairy’s unique features, including their methane digester that provides enough power for 800 homes. Staying true to the dairy theme, Grinstead had the bathroom painted to look like Holstein cow spots.
Grinstead says she hosts tours on a weekly basis. Sometimes, it’s a few fellow dairy farmers interested to see the new milking parlor or cross-ventilated barn, or perhaps a group from their milk company’s nearby headquarters. Earlier this year, she even hosted renowned animal welfare expert Temple Grandin for a farm tour.
Grinstead welcomes them all, but she has a special passion for bringing in groups with non-agriculture backgrounds. Every other year, the dairy hosts “Fall Fest,” an autumn-themed weekend of farm fun including pumpkin picking and face painting that brings out more than 1,000 people. “My goal is for kids to leave the farm with a good experience,” she adds.
That good experience, she hopes, will stay with the children as they grow up and influence their perception of dairy farms like Vir-Clar as a positive family-owned business that gives back to the community and cares about their animals and the environment. This is especially important given the dairy’s location, just a few miles from the city and less than one quarter-mile from a large lake.
With the visitor center, Grinstead takes education to a new level by providing both an interactive experience and a transparent view of dairy production, leaving a lasting impact on people of all ages and backgrounds who tour Vir-Clar Farms.
PHOTO 1: Katie (Boyke) Grindstead welcomes more than 1,000 visitors to Vir-Clar Farms each year.
PHOTO 2: A raised walkway with railing allows visitors to view the milking process and watch cows as they enter and exit the parlor.
PHOTO 3: Even the bathroom is decked out in dairy detail with a cow-spotted wall.
PHOTO 4: The visitor center was built onto the milking parlor when the dairy expanded last year.
PHOTO 5: Visitors can try their hand at using a teat-scrubbing brush or attaching a milking machine to “Rosie” the cow. Photos by Peggy Coffeen.
- Progressive Dairyman
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