The Food Journal and Food, Nutrition & Science

An alliance between The Lempert Report and The Center for Food Integrity

Dairy Cows

Dairy Cows

From the Farmer's Tractor

September 23, 2012

Rick Roden, 27, milks 400 dairy cows and raises about 1,700 acres of corn, soybean, winter wheat, and alfalfa hay on his family farm, Rob-n-Cin Farms, in West Bend, Wisconsin. Roden also does custom work for neighboring farms, including planting, chopping, combining, and baling. 

How did you get into farming? 

I have been involved with farming since I was a little boy. Both my parents grew up on farms, and my Dad started farming on his own in the late 1970s. I started a partnership with my parents in April of 2003 when I started purchasing my own cows. Currently I own about ¼ of the 400 milk cows. Also along the way I have made some equipment purchases and have bought some farmland. The farm is named in honor of my parents, Robert and Cindy.

How have your farming practices changed over the last 10 years?

In the past 10 years our farm has seen many changes. One simple thing is we have gone from milking our cows twice a day to three times a day. Another change is the way we monitor our cows. Each cow has a RFID tag in her ear, which allows a reader in our milking parlor to identify that cow. Once that cow is identified, I then can keep track of how much milk she is giving at each milking – for example, if the cow is giving less milk, the time of day that the cow got milked, how long it took to get milked and much more. Recently we also purchased pedometers for the cows, so I can track their activity, which allows me to know when that cow is coming into heat so I can breed her. Another change to the farm is we are now separating the solids out of our liquid manure. Once we separate the solids we cook them at 165 degrees Fahrenheit for 24 hours to compost the material and kill the bacteria. We then use the composted manure for bedding the free stalls that the cows lie in. 

How will farming evolve in the next five years?

Farming in the next five years will continue to evolve by becoming more advanced. It is so amazing what we can already do with technology. Our phones can now download apps, and I can currently look up info about my herd on my phone. Soon we will be able to enter data about cows onto the phone. Technology for our field equipment will continue to evolve as tractors use GPS and are able to steer themselves through the fields which allows for minimum skips and overlaps. 

What is your greatest challenge as a farmer?

One challenge to farmers is being able to keep the land in production agriculture, so we can provide the feed for our animals and plant crops we need. Some farms face other challenges as a result of government regulations. As most of the laws and regulations make sense, and I think we do need some guidelines, there are still some outrageous laws that are making it hard for farms to remain in operation. Another challenge is educating the public and lawmakers. People need to know where their food comes from and what practices we do as farmers to ensure our animals are being treated with proper care and that we are stewards of the land.  

How does a farmer know what a retailer will want a year from now?

It is tough to know exactly what the retailer will want a year from now; however, being a dairy farmer in America’s Dairyland, our milk fortunately can get made into many different products. Being in WI, the majority of the milk gets made into cheese, but you also have products like milk, ice cream, and yogurt that consumers will continue to purchase. 

What steps are you taking toward conservation on the farm?

Farms are critical for all of our survival, and spreading this message is one way to encourage their conservation. Many don’t realize that much of the food at their table comes from a farm. Not only do farms produce food, but many also don’t stop to think about the other products that are used every day that are all a part of agriculture. We also are conserving the farm through building relationships with property owners and purchasing our own farmland when available. 

Do you sell any of your products locally, and if so, what is the process?

We sell our milk to DFA (Dairy Farmers of America), and they take the milk where it is needed. Most often our milk is taken to a local cheese plant; however, our milk has also gone as far as northern Illinois where Deans Foods bottles milk. (Northern Illinois is about 100 miles southeast of our farm).

What kinds of reactions do you get from consumers when they meet you in person? 

There are many different reactions that I get when I meet with consumers. We host many school and youth group tours on our dairy farm. I think most consumers are amazed by what they see on the farm and all of the hard work that goes into producing milk. Many parents can still remember their parents or grandparents growing up on farms and hearing the stories, and I think it amazes them how advanced farming has come. I also think sometimes consumers get the impression that family farms are only small farms where Ma and Pa do all the work. While I don’t consider myself a huge farm, 400 cows is a rather large herd to take care of, and we are certainly what you would consider a family farm and family owned.