When Amy Kelsay first suggested the family open their dairy farm to tourists, the idea wasn’t met with a lot of enthusiasm.
Her father-in-law was sure they would run out of visitors the first year. Seven years later, more than 20,000 visitors have toured Kelsay Farms, played in the bale mazes, watched cows being milked and learned about agriculture.
“It has been a very positive experience,” said Amy, one of three generations of Kelsays on the farm outside Indianapolis, Indiana.
“The bottom line is this is to educate people,” said Amy, during a tour of the family’s 500 head dairy farm.
After a decade of tough times in the U.S. dairy business and an encroaching city, Kelsay Farms is the only dairy left in the county.
Amy believes it’s her job to educate schoolchildren and their families about the agriculture business.
Her husband, Joe, said their No. 1 message to their visitors is: “We take care of our cows.”
The family shows off the overhead sprinklers, fans and open walls to keep the cows cool.
“Cooling is pretty important. If they don’t eat much, they don’t milk much,” said Joe.
Using a series of visual aids and tours through the milking parlour and barns, visitors learn how much milk each cow produces, what it eats and where it sleeps. Visitors can even lay down on a cow waterbed set up in the yard.
“We encourage people to come and spend a day on the farm and learn about agriculture,” she said.
Tours run year round, with schoolchildren visiting from September to November. For most, it’s their first time on a farm.
Visitors experience straw bale mountains, crawl through corn cribs, race through the corn maze and eat ice cream. It’s when Amy learns what issues concern the young mothers.
“I can always tell what the hot button issues (are),” she said.
Raw milk is the latest one.
Amy responds by explaining modern agriculture and the importance of taking care of the land and the animals.
“It has been very positive. I have the best job on the farm.”
While agritourism has created a niche for the farm, it has also brought in another income stream for an industry that faced record low milk prices. Instead of giving up on the sixth generation farm, given to the family by U.S. president Martin Van Buren as a land grant in 1837, the family dug in and kept going.
“We have built significant holes in our equity over the past few years,” said Joe.
Milk prices have rebounded and the family is exploring its options to either replace the skid steer loaders, telehandlers or mixer wagon or update a 20-year-old tractor, 10-year-old combine or 12-year-old planter on their 2,200 acres of crop land.
“We are looking at a strategic purchase of equipment,” said Joe.
Source: The Western Producer