This piece is part of a series of articles submitted to The Local Tourist through a cooperation with a 400-level travel writing class at Purdue University.
By Cheyenne Dunn
Located between Indianapolis and Chicago, Fair Oaks Farms is an agritourism destination that has been explaining the process of raising pigs, dairy cows, and crops through “adventures” since 2004.
I’ve always been tempted to stop (their billboards on Interstate 65 are pretty convincing), but I knew I had to go after hearing a passionate employee explain the farm’s purpose at a recent Purdue club meeting.
I decided to visit the farm with my mom a few weeks later when we were both free and missing each other. Though my family is very familiar with the agriculture industry, we still thought it would be fun to spend a day here and see what else we could learn. Here’s what a typical day at the attraction looked like for us.
A Day at Fair Oaks Farms
The Dairy Adventure
When you first pull up to Fair Oaks, all you see are a lot of buildings and a big parking lot, but figuring out where you’re supposed to go is easy. Each building is clearly marked as crop adventure, birthing barn, etc. When you go into the first building that says ‘Your Adventure Starts Here’, the staff tell you how to get around and what to expect from your visit.
We chose to only buy a ticket for the dairy adventure, because that is the industry we knew the least about, and the crop adventure was included for free.
After buying our tickets, we walked over to the dairy adventure barn to wait for our tour to start. Before heading to the actual farm, our group watched a cute 10-minute animated, 3-D video that provided facts about what we were about to see at the farm, such as how often the cows are milked and why.
Once the video was over, it was time for the adventure. Our group boarded a bus and headed a mile down the road to one of Fair Oaks’ 11 dairy farms. A bus tour is necessary to go to the dairy and pig farms, which really surprised us. I think it made my mom nervous. She kept asking employees if the bus was going to leave without us. It didn’t.
In order to keep the animals from getting sick, you never actually step into a barn while on the dairy farm. You ride through the barns on the bus while information is played through the speakers. This means you don’t have to worry about wearing mud boots to the farm. You won’t be walking through manure or getting dirty.
There were about 15 people on our tour and most of them were adults without kids (including a couple all the way from California.)
A common misconception about Fair Oaks is that it’s just for kids and that is completely untrue. While kids are sure to have fun here, the information given isn’t too watered down and is really interesting for adults.
On the farm we drove through a couple of free-stall barns, which means the cows are free to move about as they please. While they are still confined to the area behind the driveway, they can choose when they want to stick their heads through the bar to eat and which stall they would like to lie in.
There is also plenty of room for them to walk around. After this, we saw where the calves live and the milking parlor. At first, my mom was sad to see that the calves didn’t stay with their moms, but I explained to her that they carry different diseases than adult cattle and it’s done to keep both of them safe. That made her feel better.
At the milking parlor, the last stop on the tour, you get out of the bus and watch through a window inside the barn. We found out this barn has to operate 24 hours a day in order to get all of the milking done.
The constant audio on the bus, as well as our bus driver, taught us so much about the dairy industry in a very short amount of time. If you aren’t from a farm or don’t know a ton about the dairy industry, you might be surprised by what you see here. But don’t worry—the staff at Fair Oaks make it clear that they have the animal’s best interest in mind and are doing all they can to keep them safe, healthy, and comfortable while still providing us with lots of milk.
Here are some of the fun facts we walked away with:
- Fair Oaks is home to 37,000 cows.
- Each of the cows produces 10 gallons of milk each day.
- The waste the cows produce is used to produce electricity for the farm.
The Farmhouse Restaurant
Like I mentioned earlier, Fair Oaks is not just about education. After the tour bus got back from the farm, we decided it was time for lunch at the Farmhouse Restaurant. A lot of the food served here was grown on the farm, and it’s really tasty. We got there in time for brunch so I ordered the bacon waffle with fried chicken and scrambled eggs.
Not only is the food here great, but the restaurant itself is gorgeous and welcoming. Vaulted ceilings, rustic decorations, and a giant fireplace. This place makes you feel at home. My mom kept sending my dad pictures of the restaurant, probably in a not-so-subtle attempt to have him remodel our house.
You don’t have to buy tickets to the adventures in order to go to the restaurant—it’s open to the public. We had heard the restaurant can get pretty busy though, so we had reservations.
The birthing barn
When we were walking out from lunch, my mom noticed the light outside of the birthing barn was yellow, which means a calf is about to be born. I know it sounds weird to watch a live birth right after lunch, but we live on a farm so this has become normal.
This was probably my favorite part of the day. Even though I see baby animals come into the world at home, it never gets old. We were able to watch this little girl’s first breath and watch how her mom instantly knew how to take care of her baby. If you’ve never seen something like this before–it’s a must. Because the farm has so many cows, it’s pretty common for visitors to catch a live birth.
The Crop Adventure
We had a little time left over after the birthing barn, so we took advantage of the free crop adventure admission. This is onsite and is a walk-through display on how crop production has changed over the years and the challenges that are coming to the industry. We did this tour in about 15 minutes, while the dairy adventure took us around an hour.
This adventure was not busy at all. That was the case for most of our day because we went during the winter. The summer, however, is the farm’s busy season and it can get pretty crowded. If you don’t mind a little cold, I highly recommend an October or November visit.
We ended our day at Fair Oaks with some ice cream in the Cow-fe (a play on the word cafe.) You can even watch as they make the ice cream from the milk produced on the farm. This fresh ice cream is outstanding and I’ve even stopped here before just for that. They also sell souvenirs and award-winning cheese in the same building. We had planned to buy T-shirts, but couldn’t find our sizes and ended up with a new ornament for our Christmas tree.
There is so much to do at Fair Oaks and it’s a great way to spend an afternoon no matter your age or farm knowledge. My mom and I already said we have to come back with my dad. If you decide to go (and you should), don’t worry if you miss the exit. They’ll make sure you get there.
Fair Oaks Farms is located at 754 N 600 E, Fair Oaks, IN 47943. It’s right off of I-65 north of Lafayette, Indiana and is an easy day trip from Chicago, Indianapolis, or Lafayette.
Admission to the Dairy and Crop Adventure is $10, and free for children 2 and under.
Make a stay of your trip to Fair Oaks Farms and get a room at the on-site Fairfield Inn & Suites.
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