The Smell of Electricity: Indiana Dairy Farming & Technology

baby calf at homestead dairy indiana milk mom cow

Homestead Family Picture
Homestead Dairy Family – Courtesy Brian Houin

Technology. I don’t know how you define it, but I define it as something that has been created to make my life easier. Generally, I use technology and electronics interchangeably even though technology might not always be electronic. My phone is the most powerful thing I own. Phones were pretty powerful when my parents were kids but now they are so different and still so relevant.

Brian Houin and his cousins and siblings know cows  and the know technology. When they were children, their fathers worked long, hard hours on the family dairy farm. Brian can remember the long hours and irregular, never-ending hours that his dad spent making sure the family business ran well and that quality milk was getting to the consumers.

Luckily for Brian, dairy farming is very different from when he was a child — the work is still hard, the hours are long sometimes and the schedule can be irregular, but so many advances in technology have made life a little better for the cows and the farmer.

That’s the Smell of Electricity

Each time our family has a farm “field trip,” we have a discussion in the car about farm etiquette — don’t laughing at poop when it falls from an animal, don’t make mention of any smells, call the animals by their correct names, they’re called “calves,” not “baby cows”.

Sometimes with a two year old, all of that goes out the window when we arrive… right along with the city air.

“What’s that smell mommy?!” Two year old Scout exclaims in a panicked voice.

“That’s the smell of electricity!” I respond as we maneuver the mini-van around barns and along dirt paths.

“I don’t like it!”

Manure Digester – Courtesy Homestead Dairy

In late 2013, Homestead Dairy finished installing a methane digester to process cow manure into energy. Today, this energy provides power to homes in the surrounding area. The manure is collected and put into a huge airtight tank and then heated. The bacteria in the manure consume the manure and release methane gas into the top of the digester where it is burned to create energy.

This is becoming a popular practice on farms. It’s amazing the way even energy is connected to agriculture.

Sort of Like a fitbit for Cows

Farmers are able to milk more cows, keep them healthy and provide a higher quality product through the GPS (Global Positioning Device) worn by cows at Homestead Dairy and other dairy farms. The GPS measures how many steps a cow takes (sort of like a fitbit for cows), notifying farmers when they might be pregnant, or not feeling well. The unit also makes it very easy to locate a specific cow when it is time for their check up with the farm veterinarian or for other reasons.

I Can Milk My Cows from Florida

At the Houin family farm, the milking machine is applied to the cow udders by hand after the farmers sanitize the teats. Then the machine takes it from there — milking each teat and falling off as the udders are emptied. Not only does the milking machine do a lot of the work of actually milking the cows, but each drop of milk is measured and logged automatically by the machine so when output changes, the farmer can be alerted to this and look in to the well-being of the animals.

Some dairy farms even use robots to milk their herd. While it hasn’t been adopted at Homestead Dairy yet, another dairy farm that we visited in Indiana has four robots that the cows LINE UP to get to. They decide when their udders are full and then they enter a stall area by choice, on their own time and get milked. The robot washes them, sanitizes and then uses lasers to line up the milking machine to milk the cow.

“It’s nice, “ said one of the farmwives, “we still don’t all get to go on vacation at once, but we can check in on the cows from our iphone and tell my brother which cows need a little more attention.” It’s almost like you can milk your cows from a beach in Florida.

Technology certainly has changed dairy farming and it will continue to change as more and more farmers invest their lives and education into making life better for their families. Don’t be fooled, being a farmer isn’t easy, as Brian Houin puts it, “It’s just very different from when my dad was running the farm.”


Indiana Dairy AmbassadorI am a proud ambassador for Indiana Dairy because I love cheese and milk! I was compensated for sharing this information with you. These are true stories of our interactions with Indiana Dairy Farmers.

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