Sleeping with the cows
Butler County farm family turns their barn into an AirBnB with a view of the milking parlor.
Have you ever wanted to spend the night in a dairy barn? Well, now you can.
New Day Dairy near Clarksville in Butler County offers a unique take on ag tourism. The enterprise took home second place in the Iowa Farm Bureau Grow Your Future Award at this year’s Young Farmer Conference.
During an overnight stay, you can watch 150 dairy cows at home in their barn 24 hours a day from the loft of the guest barn. It’s a great way to see where your food comes from. And comfortable digs to boot.
Dan Bolin is a fifth generation dairy farmer. His wife, Lynn, is a city girl. They met at Iowa State University, married and settled near Dan’s home.
The couple came back to the Bolin family’s dairy farm and built a new barn with the latest in milking technologies. The first cows were milked in the barn in 2015, while Dan and Lynn started raising their own family in the built-in living quarters.
When they eventually moved into their house, they converted the barn's living space to guest quarters with three bedrooms with private baths, adjoining a kitchen and dining room. Large windows overlook the barn with full view of the cows below.
The farm stay begins with an introductory tour, where guests become acquainted with the layout of the barn, the cows and Rita, New Day Dairy's milking robot.
“We of course take great care for biosecurity and the cows’ peace of mind,” says Lynn. “The guests are never left alone down with the cows. We’re a working farm, not a hobby farm.”
Guests learn about cow care and comfort and the dairy supply chain. They get to pet baby calves and see Rita hard at work.
At the end of their stay, there is a farewell tour and a chance to ask questions about the farm.
There are also add-ons to the basic lodging package. For an additional fee, a guest can take on the Be a Dairy Farmer Challenge. They can try their hand at milking, scrape manure off the crosswalks, feed a bottle calf, drive a tractor and peek under Rita’s hood.
Dan knows the names of all the cows. (Lynn claims she does not.) But guests can still follow their favorites from the windows high above. Dan marks six cows with paint, so they are easily recognizable to the observer as they go about their daily routine.
Guests can watch their favorites as they are milked, eat, play or just lounge about.
“People are more curious now than ever about where their food comes from,” says Lynn. “No matter who or where you are, you eat food. It unifies us.”
Of course, there are dairy foods to eat at New Day Dairy. The stay includes what Lynn calls a “DIY continental breakfast.” Fresh milk comes with the package, of course. As does yogurt, cream cheese and Swiss cheese (also available for purchase).
The Bolins belong to farmer-owned co-op Prairie Farms Dairy. Their milk goes to a processor in Luana where it's made into cheeses and other dairy products.
There are many things to do besides watch the cows at the northeast Iowa destination — hiking in nearby wooded areas, checking out the cornfields and participating in local ag tours and cultural events.
“We’ve always traveled,” says Lynn, “and we’ve always enjoyed learning.” She and Dan spent the first few years of their married life in Turkey learning the dairy business there. “We always want to see how people live and what they do. New Day Dairy gives people an opportunity to see everyday life on the dairy farm, and in the dairy barn. Hopefully, that gives them a broader view of ag and the world.”
Not just a broader view, but a more personal one at the same time. “Next time they see a news story about dairy, they can say they have been there and seen that and know someone who actually does it. That makes a difference.”
Like all ag tourism venues, New Day Dairy makes sure to carefully explain risks and to have adequate insurance coverage in case of accidents. It's very important to communicate with customers, Lynn says. "You want them to have a positive experience.”
The Sleep With the Cows guest rooms at New Day Dairy, which boasts "New Adventures, Authentic Cows and Comfy Beds," can be booked individually or as a group through newdaydairy.com or through Airbnb. A stay is $125 per night.
Those signing up for the Be a Dairy Farmer Challenge experience need to be prepared — farmers work winter and summer no matter the weather, and you will, too.
Queck-Matzie is a freelance writer from Greenfield.
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