illinois dairy cows

Consumer Demand Impacts Farm Practices

Recently, a group of dietetic interns from Northern Illinois University were given the opportunity to tour Phil Borgic’s pig farm and Mitchell Dairy Farm to see the first step in the food production process for themselves. They learned about the science behind livestock farming and asked their own questions about how a farmer’s choices affect food safety. Here is what they learned:

The class trip to Mitchell’s Farm was a very eye-opening experience. With very little prior knowledge or exposure to dairy farming, I was unsure of what to expect from the farm visit. This was the first time a lot of us had the opportunity to learn about raising cattle and milking cattle. One of the most interesting things to us as nutrition students was learning about what goes into the cows’ feed. I assumed that their food was a very basic mixture of items such as grass or hay that could be purchased from any farm store. The farmers explained the importance of ensuring the feed contains all of the essential amino acids for the cattle. With the help of a nutritionist, they have created a very detailed mixture of food, composed of many different nutrients that works best for their cow’s needs.

Another impressive aspect of the farm is the system they use to track the cows. They have a phone app that can tell them where any cow is at any time, if it is currently receiving antibiotics, as well as other unique information about the cow. The farm also has a timely system for milking the cows; the cows are milked three separate times throughout the day. It is important to stick to this schedule – if they were to stop milking them, the cows would become engorged which can lead to infection or diminished milk production. We also learned that if any cow was on antibiotics they still get milked, but the milk is separated and is not used to sell. If the contaminated milk were to be included with the rest, the whole batch would have to be discarded.

Along with their careful use of cows being treated with antibiotics, I was also glad to find out that Mitchell’s Farm does not use rBST — and that it is becoming more common not to use it in the dairy industry. I was also surprised to find out that there have been studies that show no negative effect of using the bovine growth hormone. Despite this, I think the industry shifting away from this is due to the consumer wanting the most “natural” product possible. Even if there is not a substantial negative effect that comes about from using these hormones, their use is still adding something extra to the animals and therefore to the product. In the consumer’s eyes, this is not necessary and not preferred. One of the biggest takeaways from this experience was learning how much the consumers drive the industry and can bring about change in the processes of how food gets from farm to table.


Katy Boll, Laurel Jakubowski, Angie Pusateri

In September 2017, a group of Dietetic Interns from NIU toured a local dairy farm in Winnebago, IL and a pig farm in Nokomis, IL to learn more about how food is produced and what that means for food safety. After the tours, they shared their thoughts by blogging about what they experienced on these farms.