Just before Blake Evans walks into the Shamrock Farms visitors center, the 5-year-old says what everyone else is thinking. “This place is stinky-winky,” he says, clamping his hands over his nose.
Ten thousand Holstein cows producing 300,000 gallons of waste each day will do that. Ah, the smell of Arizona’s dairy country.
Blake is tagging along with his cousin, Mason Songer, and Mason’s parents, Karla and Daimon, for a tour of Shamrock Farms, the largest dairy in the Southwest.
“I grew up in Minnesota as a kid, and I wanted Mason to have that experience,” says Karla Songer of Anthem. “You know, experience nature and the farm and all the hard work that goes into it.”
Shamrock Farms launched farm tours at its state-of-the-art dairy in Stanfield late last year to educate the public about how Shamrock gets its products to the consumer. It’s also an opportunity for urban Arizonans to acquaint themselves with the state’s rural side.
Visitors start the tour at the Welcome Center Barn, a red structure that houses an ice cream parlor, gift shop and museum documenting the company’s 80-year history.
Native Texan Beth Ann Debold leads visitors (dubbed the “herd”) over to a tram driven by Dave Downs. Each visitor receives a green bracelet and a warning.
“Anyone caught straggling from the herd is going to get tagged and sold,” Debold says. Milk is one of the most regulated food products in the United States, so security at the farm is tight.
The tram rolls past thousands of cows sunning on an open field. Debold explains their diets and habits and some of the farm’s technological features, such as the Desert Oasis, which maintains a temperature of 78 degrees at all times, even during the hot Arizona summer.
Before being milked, the cows are washed in a bathing area employees call “Roxie’s Spa.” Then they are herded into the milking barn, where visitors watch from an observation deck. The cows’ udders are coated with iodine, and the milking machine is attached. Up to 200 cows are milked at any given time.
“The milk isn’t touched by human hands until it gets to your table,” says Debold.
The message of the tour is that Shamrock cows are treated humanely, and
happy cows produce the best milk.
“I think I’m going to buy Shamrock milk,” says Melissa Dunning of Queen Creek. “I wonder if the other dairies do all that they do.”
After visiting the milking barn, the tour heads to the calf nursery, which houses calves that are younger than 30 days old. The kids and their parents put on plastic gloves and feed the babies.
“Who wants to take home a baby calf?” Debold asks before the group heads back to the visitor’s center for some free milk.
Both Mason and Blake raise their hands. “I do, I do!” the two say as if clamoring for a piece of candy.
Karla Songer gently puts her hand on Mason’s shoulder and says, “I don’t think the HOA would let us have a cow.”
Shamrock Farms by the numbers . . .
10,000: Cows on the farm 1,500: Weight in pounds of the average cow 200: Cows that can be milked at one time
101: Temperature of the milk when it comes out of the cow
36: Hours it takes for the milk to leave the cow and end up on the table
30: Gallons of waste produced daily by each cow