Knowledge of modern agriculture goes home

Michigan State University Extension’s Breakfast on the Farm (BOTF) program is one effort to improve agricultural literacy. Key “take-home” messages are an important component of each educational event.

One goal of the MSU Extension Breakfast on the Farm (BOTF) program is to educate a population that is becoming father removed from the knowledge of how their food is produced. BOTF programs give consumers and farm neighbors a first-hand look at modern food production and the farm families who work hard to produce a safe, wholesome food supply for Michigan communities and the world.

One of the ways that BOTF accomplishes this is through educational signage with key take-home messages on various topics. Education on modern cow housing is one area that interests non-farm consumers. The short messages stress that cow comfort is a top priority on dairy farms and that comfortable cows produce high-quality, wholesome milk and live longer with less stress when they receive good care. Producer and industry volunteers are at each educational station to answer questions during the self-guided tour and reinforce messages on how dairy farmers provide the most comfortable environment for the animals. The resource people share that the cows are provided clean, soft bedding and access to food and water 24 hours a day. They explain that in Michigan most dairy farms now house their cows in freestall barns and these barns allow the cows to freely eat, drink, exercise and rest. When visitors enter the freestall barns they can feel and see how the ventilation contributes to cow comfort and health. During the summer events it is usually 10 to 20 degrees cooler in the barn than outside and the fans and misters also make the visitors much more comfortable. Participants learn that the walls of the barn are curtains which can be lowered or lifted, the roof ridge is open for ventilation, fans are installed and some have water misters to help cool the cows. They experience first-hand how barns are designed specifically for the needs of the dairy cow. Many visitors are curious about what the cows do in the winter and are surprised to find out that they are a cold-weather animal and thrive in our Michigan environment.

Another message is that the alleys are cleaned several times a day to help keep the animals clean and healthy. A common comment after the event is that visitors were surprised to see how clean the animals and barns are. Participants learn that cows spend about 6 hours throughout the day and night eating. They also learn a 1,400 pound cow will eat about 100 pounds of feed a day, and in return, produce an average of 8 gallons of milk each day. In addition, the local veterinarian is often present to talk with visitors about how he or she works with the farm to keep their animals healthy and comfortable. Some farms have their hoof trimmer discuss “nail care” and the non-farm consumers find this very informative.

Through signage and interaction, BOTF participants take home the message that dairy farmers are committed to providing high-quality milk and that begins with taking good care of their animals. Past survey results have shown that visitor impressions about housing, animal care and the steps to safe guard milk improve following the tour, thus increasing agriculture literacy among the participants. For more information on general agriculture literacy or the Breakfast on the Farm program contact MSU Extension agriculture literacy educators and Breakfast on the Farm organizers, Mary Dunckel at 989-354-9870 or or Nancy Thelen at 734-222-3825 or

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