This leg of the trip has had precisely zero relevance to my study topic, but it’s been very interesting nonetheless. I had left these days unbooked to see what came up, and in the end it was…dairies. A friend called a friend who called a friend etc, and eventually I was emailed by the head of Genus/ABS for North America [well done Nuffield network], and he sorted out a few visits on the way down through South Dakota.
The smallest operation I saw was run by an English family, and had 900 cows. The largest was around 3,000. I knew nothing about dairies a few days ago – and not much has changed. Most of the visits were spent with me saying thing like “Wow”, “that’s amazing” or “very interesting”. All of these were true, but I did not have many penetrating questions to ask…
One common theme was expansion. All of them were looking to build numbers, sometimes only a couple of hundred, often more. They all had plans, and permission, to double in size. Obviously the dairy industry here is very strong at the moment. At one point one lady was showing me the new barn extension they were putting up, and telling me about the 120 cows that were going to fill it. I remarked that she must have a friendly bank manager; “No, last year was good, we don’t need the bank for this”.
In NZ the guys were going on about rotary parlours all the time, I had assumed the same would be true here. But it seems they were stung with bad reliability a couple of decades ago, and now hardly anyone wants to use them.
After the ABS/Genus tour, I headed down further south into Nebraska to stay the night with a guy called Bart Ruth. He’s an Eisenhower Fellow, and hosts a lot of Nuffield visitors. One of his neighbours is a man called Todd Tuls, who owns three dairies, milking around 15,000 cows in total; it’s quite a big business. Here are a few photos from his 6,000 cow Butler Creek dairy, which is something quite beyond my previous, limited, agricultural experience.