Next time you pour a splash of milk over your cereal or watch melted cheddar stretch apart from your toasty grilled cheese sandwich, thank a Colorado dairy farmer. As the second largest commodity in Colorado, dairy farmers produce millions of gallons of milk per year.
Most of Colorado’s dairy farms are family-owned and -operated. One such farm is Empire Dairy in Wiggins. Jack Dinis founded the farm in 1981 with 50 cows. Today, Jack’s son, Norm, runs the dairy with 5,000 Holstein cows that are milked three times per day, producing a whopping 52,000 gallons of milk per day. Norm’s wife, Britt, and his three children, Austin, 19, Jagger, 16, and Olivia, 14, also help on the farm.
“It means everything; it’s one of the main reasons we do it,” Dinis says of working the farm with family. “After my dad achieved his goals, he passed the torch to me, and because of his hard work, I’ve been able to achieve success and have done lots of things I wanted to in the dairy industry. The motivation is to someday pass it on to my kids.”
In addition to working with his family, Dinis says Empire employs 80 workers that help with the dairy and the 5,000 acres of forage crops, including alfalfa and corn silage, which is created when the farmer takes the corn and stalk and ferments it as a high-moisture, high-energy feed.
As part of the Dairy Farmers of America co-op, Empire Dairy abides by standard care rules set in place to make sure cows are happy and healthy.
“First and foremost, we’re all animal lovers at heart,” Dinis says of Colorado’s dairy farmers. “Second, a healthy cow is a happy cow, and a happy cow gives lots of milk.”
Bill Keating, senior director of industry relations at the Western Dairy Association, echoes Dinis’ sentiment that dairy farmers take care of their cows because it’s the right thing to do.
“Dairy farmers often raise their children on the dairy, and teaching them good animal husbandry is paramount to a dairy farm’s continued existence,” he says.
All cows at Empire Dairy are housed in free-range barns with ready access to outside exercise pens. The barns are equipped with cooling fans and misters to keep cows cool in the summer, plus motion-detecting back scratchers that activate when a cow nudges it. They also have routine checkups and visits from veterinarians.
“All of these practices have become standard throughout the industry,” Dinis says. “Dairies have become very good at what we do, and we all have the same goal to be as proficient and productive as we can, because we love our animals.”
Love of the Land
Along with keeping cows happy, Dinis says that as an industry, dairy farmers are also stewards of the land.
“A lot of what we do on our farms is to be as efficient as possible and reuse inputs and nutrients,” he adds.
Specifically, Empire Dairy uses groundwater to cool the milk in the milking parlor, then cycles it through to water cows as well. It also recycles the nutrients from the cows’ manure to grow alfalfa and forage crops.
Keating says that these types of practices have made a huge difference in the past 70 years.
“Thanks to the hard work and innovations of dairy farmers, a gallon of milk is made with 65 percent less water, 90 percent less land and 63 percent less carbon, compared to 1944,” he says. “Dairy is truly a sustainable, honorable, and environmentally sound business that produces a fantastically healthy and delicious product.”