The Sights and Sounds of Calder Dairy

Calder Dairy offers a firsthand look at an agritourist destination

Calder Dairy is a farm located in Carleton, Michigan. Established in 1946, their goal was to deliver farm fresh produce to local homes. Years later while dairy seems to be their main focus and source of income, they are also very focused on their agritourism business. From a place to visit on a nice summer day, to learning about the small scale farming system, it is a great place to bring young children. The staff does a great job of making sure visitors feel safe and welcome when approaching their animals. It is a great place for young kids to gain some insight into what farming is like and also experience farm animals for the first time. Their farm is not their only location, they also have a few additional stores in Michigan that sell their fresh produce daily.

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Started in 1946 by a young William Graham Stewart Calder, business took place by purchasing milk from local dairy farmers, processing it, and then delivering it to locals. A few years later he was able to purchase the farm that we now know in Carleton, Michigan. Their first cow was a Brown Swiss meant to keep the grass short. From that first cow the farm slowly started to grow from Brown Swiss, to Holstein and Jersey cows as well. Fast forward to today and there are now 180 cows that provide the milk for the products sold in their stores. William is no longer around to watch over his farm, but his family is still in charge of all of their business.

As a kid, this was a farm I would visit often. It was what molded my knowledge of dairy farms and what took place in order to produce their amazing products. Going back as an adult with a much broader view on farming I realized that Calder Dairy is nowhere near the common dairy farm. While their main product is their milk and other related produce, you only get a glimpse inside that process. The main area is dedicated to a petting farm and learning about what animals are on the farm. We were introduced to their ducks and geese, goats, pigs, donkeys and their different breeds of cows in the short time that we had to visit. They welcomed us as any other school group without realizing that we were college students who intended on making agriculture a career path in many different ways.

All of that being said, I appreciate the chance I had to visit this farm another time. It helped me explore another huge part of what is keeping some dairy farms running in these trying times; agritourism. Like myself, many young kids grow up in more urban settings and do not get to learn much about farming. This is a place for them to go and experience animals and farming in a way that they never have before. We learned about how they have an aerated pond that is cleaned by the fish and many of their ducks and geese stay there even in the coldest winters. We also learned that many of the animals on the public farm are now kept as just pets and serve no purpose towards their products. For a farm meant mainly for agritourism, these are exactly the type of things you expect to learn and talk about. Our tour guide even took us on a tractor ride to look at their many grazing cows and horses. Afterwards we were brought into their small shop, given free ice cream samples, and encouraged to purchase their products.

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Each one of their cows can produce up to 20 gallons a day. The milk is then shipped to their processing plant located in Lincoln Park, Michigan. Once all of their milk is processed, it is either bottled and then shipped off to their stores, or brought back to their main farm, where it is turned into their famous ice cream. Calder Dairy’s famous taste is created by combining milk from all three cows, the Brown Swiss, Holstein and Jersey. Before their cows are suitable for milking, they are raised in the new calf barn. It was my favorite part of our tour because we not only learned about the calves, but we also got to pet them. They are only allowed milk a few times a day, which is now controlled by a machine that they walk into, have their tag scanned and either given or denied milk if they have had it their given share of times in a day. They are then moved to different barns gradually as they age.

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