A visit to Fair Oaks Farms is like seeing dairy farming the way Walt Disney might have done it, complete with multimedia presentations, humor, theater and education.
The Adventure Center has cow facts (they have four stomachs), groan-inducing cow humor (What do you call a Guernsey after it’s 6 months old? Seven months old.), and enough hands-on stuff to keep kids of any age engaged.
And there’s the birthing barn, where an average of 80 calves are born each day. Watching the births left some kids in the viewing area looking a little green. One threw up as a cow struggled to birth her calf. A nonchalant staffer noted, "It happens. Pretty often, actually."
Don’t miss the 4-D theater where a cow sneeze feels like the real thing or the 45-minute bus tour of the farm. The tour includes a stop at the amazing computerized milking center. Cows walk onto a turntable, get hooked up to the milking machine, ride around the carousel and back off after one full turn, producing 250,000 gallons of raw milk daily.
And not to worry, city slickers, there is no farm smell here, despite Fair Oaks’ claim to be one of the largest dairy farms in North America. That’s because of a self-contained system for breaking down cow manure into energy (enough to power the farm and sell energy to the local power company) and fertilizer and liquid for nourishing the fields.
Don’t leave without grabbing a bite at the Cheese Factory, where the menu is predictably cheese-based (ham and cheese, grilled cheese, cheese Quesadillas). Wash it down with a bottle of the richest chocolate milk you’ll ever drink.
Fair Oaks Farms is about 70 miles southeast of Chicago in Fair Oaks, Ind., just off Interstate 65 at exit 220. The Dairy Adventure is open 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Friday and 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Sunday. Admission costs $7, $6 for seniors, $4 for kids 3-12 and free for kids 2 and under. Plan to spend about three hours there, depending on how long the birthing process takes—or how much your kids can stand to watch. Call (877) 536-1194 or visit www.fofarms.com for more information.