Believe it or not, I’m a lifelong Iowan who has never lived on a farm. My kids, too, are growing up in suburbia where an occasional trip to the local farmers market instills their limited awareness of our state’s vital ag industry.
So on a recent Saturday, my family visited Hansen’s Farm Fresh Dairy, an operation located near Hudson, just a few minutes south of Waterloo and Cedar Falls. We gathered with about 25 other visitors, waiting and lingering over coolers and freezers brimming with freshly made milk, cream, cheese curds, ice cream, and assorted other products produced on the Hansen’s farm.
Soon, Blake Hansen arrived via tractor, pulling an awning-topped trolley that we eagerly climbed aboard, ready to start our adventure.
Blake’s wife Jordan guided the tour and welcomed us on behalf of the four Hansen brothers who manage this seventh generation Heritage Farm. (The family has owned the farm for more than 150 years!) Each brother is primarily responsible for a different part of the complex dairy operation, from livestock management to product production and delivery.
The family’s enthusiastic black dog, Piper, bounced alongside the trolley as we entered the farm for a more than one-hour walking tour. Jordan and another guide broke the group into two parts so everyone could experience what was a truly a hand-on experience.
The Hansen’s welcome approximately 200 calves throughout the year. The males are sold, and the young females are named and placed in individual pens. After a short but important demonstration from Jordan, each family received a bottle and had the chance to feed an adorable – and very strong, very hungry – calf.
Next, we visited two nearby pens that Jordan explained housed older heifers that were transitioning to adulthood and enjoying all the cow-like rites of passage: the acquisition of ear tags, a lesson on electric fences, etc.
Then we made our way to a barn where the pregnant cows and heifers comfortably munched on silage made from the Hansen’s own inventory of alfalfa and corn. The concoction is apparently delicious because these cows (each of which was at least seven months pregnant), hardly noticed our inquisitive stares. Jordan nonchalantly petted the a few cows’ noses, and they responded with an appreciative lick of their peculiarly long tongues. She encouraged us to pet them too. (We chose not to. Mostly because of that long, gooey tongue thing.)
Our next stop was the milk barn where over the course of three hours, groups of cows waddled in for their second of two daily milkings. Visitors were invited to try hand-milking a cow, and I was shocked that my six-year-old leapt at the chance. My eight-year-old, on the other hand, wanted no part of it.
The Hansen’s own 350 cows, Piper the dog, two goats and, surprisingly, four kangaroos. (Check out their logo, and you’ll understand the kangaroo connection.) We made our way inside an outdoor pen where the goats and one female kangaroo named Pogo enjoyed a peaceful coexistence. Adults snapped pictures while the kids fed Pogo wheat bread and caressed her pointy ears. (Two male kangaroos are kept in a different pen and the fourth is an infant who temporarily lives in a messenger bag in Blake and Jordan’s home.)
The tour concluded back at the retail center where we sampled products, made our own butter and gobbled it up on crackers.
The Hansen’s pride themselves on producing a variety of fresh, quality products, each made exclusively from cows in their Holstein herd. The public can purchase these products at the farm, at Hansen’s Dairy retail stores in Waterloo and Cedar Falls or at several area retailers and restaurants.
The hands-on tour begins at 3:30, lasts about two hours and requires reservations. Shorter tours are available and also require an appointment. Call 319-988-9834 to make a reservation and don't forget to visit them online.