What's It Like to Work on a Dairy Farm?

In a special bonus episode, we meet fifth generation dairy farmer Tara Vander Dussen, who discusses the technology and innovation on her family's farm. 

Monica Reinagel, MS, LD/N, CNS
9-minute read

This special bonus interview is brought to you by Undeniably Dairy. For more information, visit UndeniablyDairy.org.

These days, a lot of people are interested in learning more about where their food comes from. For example, so many of us drink milk or give it to our kids every single day, but most of us have never had an opportunity to visit a working dairy farm before. In fact, I was surprised to learn that most Americans live within 100 miles of a dairy farm. So no matter where you live, chances are you have a dairy farm as a neighbor.

Joining me today to give us a peek into a typical day on a typical dairy farm is Tara Vander Dussen, a fifth generation dairy farmer. She's also the president of United Dairy Women, an organization committed to childhood nutrition and supporting local area children's homes. She's played an instrumental role in that organization's fundraising efforts, helping to raise money for children's homes so they have daily access to milk. And in addition, she works as a trained environmental scientist on her own family dairy. She shares her story on her blog, NewMexicoMilkMaid.com.

What's It Like to Work on a Dairy Farm?

Nutrition Diva: Welcome to the podcast, Tara.

Tara Vander Dussen: Thank you for having me!

ND: So, it sounds like dairy farming runs in the family. I'm curious—did you ever consider doing something else or have you always known that you'd be a dairy farmer, too?

TVD: So it definitely does run in my family and it's just a part of our heritage. My husband is a fifth generation dairy farmer as well, but I did not know this is what I always wanted to do. When I went away to college, I knew I wanted to focus in environmental science. Part of me still wanted to consider going to law school and moving out of the rural America small town, and moving to the big city. I was eighteen, leaving for college and ready to explore the world. I ended up meeting my husband and we got married and I moved back to his family farm in the town that I grew up in.

Now looking back, I can't imagine what I was thinking or wanting to do anything else. Dairy farming is such a passion for me and I love the community and the sense of family that it brings. And the culture and heritage. It is a part of my family. And now I've fallen in love with it all over again and I'm so happy that this is where I ended up.

ND: Well, tell us what's going on at this time of year on a dairy farm. I think most of us have no idea what the cycle is.

TVD: So I always refer to our dairy as a dairy farm, with that "farm" on the end because not only do we run our dairy, but we also have a farm. And so at this time of year, farmers across the United States are working hard for harvest, so we're harvesting our crops. That probably doesn't come as a surprise to too many people, just because you think of fall as that time of harvest. So that's exactly what all dairy farmers are doing right now, is harvesting their summer crops. And here in New Mexico, we plant two crops—a summer crop and a winter crop. So as soon as we finish our harvest, we'll also be planting our next season of crops for the winter. So we have our day-to-day activities, caring for our cows and milking every single day. And then on top of that we’re harvesting out on tractors, in combines, and with silo trucks running everywhere, bringing in all the feed that we're going to feed our cows for the next year.

ND: So you mention you're out there milking every day. Where does that milk go once it leaves your farm? What's the next step?

TVD: As you mentioned, most people live within 100 miles of a dairy farm, and that's because we have a perishable product. So your milk usually doesn't travel too far to get to you. For us, our milk actually goes to a cheese plant in our community, about a mile or two from our dairy farm. It’s made into lots of different kinds of cheese. The plant in our town is actually the world's largest cheese plant, officially. And so lots and lots of cheese comes out of New Mexico, which probably surprises most people.

ND: That's right, we think of Wisconsin.

TVD: Absolutely! Most people do. And what's great about our cheese is that we always pair our cheese with our hot green chilies, which New Mexico is famous for. So we have some really great pepperjack that comes out of our area.


About the Author

Monica Reinagel, MS, LD/N, CNS

Monica Reinagel is a board-certified licensed nutritionist, author, and the creator of one of iTunes' most highly ranked health and fitness podcasts. Her advice is regularly featured on the TODAY show, Dr. Oz, NPR, and in the nation's leading newspapers, magazines, and websites. Do you have a nutrition question? Call the Nutrition Diva listener line at 443-961-6206. Your question could be featured on the show.