This is a sponsored post on behalf of fairlife ultra-filtered milk, as part of my ambassadorship with the company.
All opinions expressed are my own.
You’ve heard us talking a lot of about fairlife ultra-filtered milk this past year… Now it’s time to get the behind-the-scenes scoop, straight from the horse’s… er, cow’s mouth.
We recently had a chance to visit fairlife’s flagship farm; and while a visit to Fair Oaks Farms is fun, it also has a clear mission. The fairlife team is determined to deliver healthy, nutritious dairy products that enrich lives… and do so while showing that large agricultural operations can be both sustainable and compassionate.
In fact, the theme we noticed that ran throughout our visit was a drive to do things differently in order to do things better. That drive comes from fairlife cofounders Mike and Sue McCloskey, and it permeates every aspect of the business, from the conditions for the cows, to the energy spent on running the operation, to the quality of the ultra-filtered milk (which, as we’ve talked about before, provides 50% more protein and 50% less sugar than regular milk).
Fair Oaks Farms is located in Fair Oaks, Indiana, which is not far from downtown Chicago (just under an hour) or Indianapolis, but far away enough from city life that you truly feel like you’re out in the country. It’s made up of 12 family-run dairies with approximately 36,000 cows total.
When you first arrive at the welcome center at Fair Oaks Farms, you’re struck by how sprawling the area is. It feels like a mashup of a farm, an amusement park, a museum, and a university. Visitors can learn all about dairy farming, or they can dine at a restaurant, play on a climbing wall, jump on a giant jumping pillow, learn all about pig farming, or explore an exhibit on crop farming and agriculture.
Of course, if it’s dairy you’re here to learn about, you can start right at the beginning, i.e. the “birthing barn.” The farm experiences between 80 and 100 calves born every day. A signal outside the bright red birthing barn alerts visitors when a cow is about to give birth, and you can watch the whole process take place from behind a glass screen.
As you continue to immerse yourself in the dairy farm life, you learn that it’s almost all about the cows, or the “girls” as Sue McCloskey calls them. Comfortable, healthy cows produce better quality milk, and the farm team works hard to make sure that the cows are happy.
A short bus ride takes you to the cows’ living quarters, where you can check out their amenities. The cows have freestanding stalls and sand beds, as well as a canopy that protects them from the weather. In the heat, a fan blows cooling air through the stalls, and in the freezing Indiana winters, they are protected by curtain-like walls that lower over the stalls. The farm grows almost all of its feed to ensure traceability of its food sources.
Three times a day, when it’s milking time, the “girls” are herded into a large milking carousel where they get hooked up to the milking equipment. By the time they take a complete spin around the carousel, the milking is done.
The farm also maintains a high priority on sustainability, with initiatives such as re-using cow manure to create biofuel that powers its fleet of trucks. The biofuel is also used to generate electricity that powers the farm’s buildings and machines. The farm’s goal is to achieve a zero carbon footprint. In fact, this year the use of compressed natural gas (CNG) will reduce the amount of diesel that its milk tanker/trailers use by 2 million gallons.
Striving for Excellence
The question of why the McCloskeys opened up their operation to the public like this goes straight to the driving force behind fairlife’s values. They want to disabuse people of their pre-formed notions about commercial dairy farming, and they are driven to continue to strive for excellence. For the fairlife farm, this has meant finding better ways to support the cows as well as finding more environmentally friendly ways to run their operation.
Sue McCloskey says that the “always striving to do better” mentality comes naturally to her husband Mike, but it was something that she had to develop over time. “Once you start down that path, it’s really a difficult path to get off. I’ll have a conversation on a plane with a person in a totally different business, and I’ll start with, ‘Have you ever done this?’ or ‘Have you ever thought of that?’ – It’s like you put glasses on, and all of a sudden you just start seeing things in a different way, and you can’t go back to the other way of thinking.”
What’s next for fairlife and its flagship farm? The team will be adding a chicken exhibit and a new hotel onsite, to be ready in late 2019. Another goal McCloskey mentions is creating a university extension at Fair Oaks Farms. Her thought is that a university team could use the space to do its trials and practical research, and everyone would benefit from having a “meeting of minds” in the same space.
For all of these reasons and more – if you want to have your eyes opened and learn more about large-scale dairy farming, a visit to fairlife’s flagship farm is definitely worth the trip. But if it’s just great-tasting, good-for-you milk that you’re after, a cold glass of fairlife is as close as your nearest grocery store.