September 26, 2018

How These Dairy Farmers Take Cow Comfort to The Next Level

Top Story  |   |  By: Betsy Jibben

When you step onto Cow Comfort Inn Dairy in Union Bridge, Maryland, the name speaks for itself. A list lays out your visit and why these cows enjoy their stay too. 

"We have a saying in the industry [that goes] when you take care of your cows, the cows take care of you,” says Katie Dotterer-Pyle, co-owner of Cow Comfort Inn Dairy. 

Both Katie Dotterer-Pyle and her husband, David Pyle, grew up on dairies in the Northeast. They even met at one where they both worked. It wasn’t just love which helped create this 400 head dairy. The jerseys may have won her over.

“I was never allowed to have a jersey cow growing up,” Dotterer-Pyle explains. “My uncle would go to cow sales and I’d always say, ‘Can you please just get me one jersey?’ When I met my husband and found out he had all brown cows, I said, ‘Oh, hello!’ I joke I married him for his brown cows. It might only be only half true.”

Since starting her own dairy, this young farmer has started sharing how and why animal husbandry is important through social media. For example, she offers these rubber mattresses covered with recycled manure. 

“It’s super comfy. I’ve even taken a nap in it before,” said Dotterer-Pyle.

It’s a way for her to connect with consumers online with pictures, videos and hashtags like ‘ask farmers, not google.’ 

“I use [the hashtag] because listen, I use Google too. Google doesn’t know everything,” says Dotterer-Pyle. “Google doesn’t milk cows. Google doesn’t take care of cows, we do.” 

While this dairy may stand out, what you may not realize is how Cow Comfort Inn Dairy is one of many operations following a set of benchmarks nation-wide. 

The program is called Farmers Assuring Responsible Management, or the FARM Animal Care Program. It developed by the National Milk Producers Federation with support from Dairy Management Inc. in 2009.

"The feedback we continue to hear with our customers and consumers is continuous improvement is really important in the industry,” says Angela Anderson, director of customer outreach for the FARM Animal Care Program. “If we can have a program that indicates and shows that you’re going to be improving and every day you're going to do better and more; that's something [both producers and consumers] are going to want to embrace and be a part of.”

The group isn’t exclusive. Roughly 98% of the milk marketed in the U.S. goes through these sets of standards.

“We as the FARM team don’t expect our dairies to be perfect today,” says Emily Yeiser Stepp, director of the FARM Animal Care Program. “I don’t think anybody in any business expects to be perfect. What we are asking for is that continuous improvement.”

Part of the process is having an evaluator come to the operation once every three years. The milk from this operation goes to Land ‘O Lakes. The company is making it a requirement all of its member dairies participate in the FARM Animal Care Program.

“We may talk to individual caretakers,” says Brittni Harris, an evaluator with Land ‘O Lakes. “We may talk to the feeders. We may talk to [the employees] in the parlor. Building that relationship with the management team and with the individual workers, you have to have both pieces in order to have an effective evaluation.”

It’s a good tool for the company and message for their consumers as too.

“Our customers appreciate we have data to back up the claims we are making,” Harris says. “Our producers appreciate we are doing something to broadcast the good things that they do every day to take care of their animals.”

“It’s nice to be held accountable,” Dotterer-Pyle adds. “I think we as farmers should be holding ourselves accountable for cow care. These cows are under our care for a reason.” 

Whether you ‘check-in’ for the afternoon or are curious about the cows here, rest assured. Once you arrive, you’ll know why cows enjoy their stay. 

“Again, I keep going back to [the saying] if you take care of the cows, they’ll take care of you,” Dotterer-Pyle says.