My Midwest relatives are probably shaking their heads, but I had a weekend vacation to an Iowa dairy farm and I loved it. Yes, people will pay to stay at a farm.
The rise of agritourism is an exciting thing for the Midwest. Iowa farmers are leading the way in creating some unforgettable experiences for visitors. For city folk like me, it’s eye-opening and a refreshing change from go-go-go of my typical travel blog weekends. I’m definitely adding it to the list of top things to do at least once in Iowa!
Disclosure: New Day Dairy Barn hosted my stay at the cow barn for the blog Oh My! Omaha. All thoughts, opinions and typos are my own.
We spent a summer weekend in northeast/north central Iowa, with our home base in Clarksville, home to the New Day Dairy. Over the course of two days, we spent a little time in the nearby towns of Fredericksburg, Charles City and Denver. I wrote about a whole weekend of activities you can do in the region in this post.
New Day Dairy GuestBarn in Iowa
Our hosts for the weekend were Dan and Lynn, the owners of New Day Dairy GuestBarn. The GuestBarn is a charming bed & breakfast type accommodations connected to their dairy barn. The windows on the second floor overlooked the 120 cows in the barn.
There were three bedrooms, which worked out perfectly since my dad joined us on this trip. The kitchen was spacious and fully equipped with all we needed to make our own dinners.
A continental breakfast was included, which included the absolute best Dutch letters made on a nearby farm. I’m not exaggerating. I’d stay overnight again just for those Dutch letters.
The dairy farm is a working farm, so there were clear guidelines on where to go and where not to go without a farmer to accompany you. This was hard for my daughter in particular to understand, so just know that if you have an animal lover in your family, keep an eye on them. My daughter would’ve slept in the calves’ area if she could get away with it.
Tours on the farm
Every guest receives two short tours, one at the beginning and one at the end of your stay. These tours are thoughtfully planned around the farm schedule, so you don’t feel like you’re imposing or are in the way (too much).
Tip: If you plan on staying at a farm like this, I highly recommend leaving the flip flops at home. Let’s just say, the tours so you every aspect of a dairy farm.
Our introductory tour in the early evening led us into the barn (wearing booties are a must), where we got a glimpse of the robot that milks the cows, as well as learned about the feeding schedule of the cows.
The farewell tour was in the morning, and that was when we got to see the calves up close.
Those tours are all a part of the experience, but you can opt for the ultimate farm experience for an additional fee: The Dairy Farmer Challenge. If time and budget allows, and if you don’t mind a little bit of poop (OK, a lot of poop), this is highly recommended!
Dan gave the farmer’s challenge tour. Dan’s grandparents started the farmstead, and so it’s great to hear his perspective on how dairy farming as changed over the years.
First, we took turns riding in a tractor with Dan to see where they store the food for the cows. Side note: These cows eat 12 times a day.
Anyway, after the tractor ride went into the cow barn for some hands-on work. In a way, it’s funny that guests pay for this experience. But it’s also wonderfully important to see the work that’s put in to create the food and products we use each day.
Dan and his family know all the cows and their personalities and if you stay for even just a day, you start to notice it too.
For instance, Abbie the cow loves her head scratched and will follow you around if given the chance.
New Day the cow has the most mesmerizing underbite.
And while not a cow, Snaggletooth the cat is not to be touched. But Gus the cat is totally cool.
Anyway, back to the challenge and the “I can’t believe I’m doing this” experiences.
First we went to the milking station. With 120 cows, the process is fully automated and all the data is tracked closely by computer. But, still, we learned how to milk a cow by hand and had a chance to try it ourselves.
Then, the gross part…we scraped poop. If you had any sort of idealized vision of dairy farming, this will erase it. Cows poop a lot, and farms like New Day use that poop to fertilize the land where they grow the corn that will feed the cows.
There are automated scrapers to get most of the poop to its eventual destination, but there are areas the scrapers can’t reach, so it becomes the job of people to scrape the rest. And as guests on the Dairy Farmer Challenge, we were give shovels and put to work. Briefly. Thank god.
Our reward for poop duty was the chance to feed the calves, including bottle-feeding the 36-hour-old calf named Egypt. My kids absolutely loved this part of the tour and quickly forgot about the poop part of the tour.
The slightly older calves (like 2 weeks old kind of “older”) were on a grain mixture diet and we were able to hand-feed those sweeties.
Both nights we stayed on the farm, the five of us played a boardgames well into the night. Typically, we watch a movie at night on trips, but I’m glad we had a fun dairy-themed game my kids enjoyed playing with us.
You could very easily plan a getaway to just the New Day Dairy GuestBarn and love it. The beautifully decorated rooms encourage relaxation, as does the fire pit outdoors. Just chill out, read, watch cows. You get the idea.