Katie Dotterer-Pyle and her husband, David, who operate the Maryland based Cow Comfort Inn, are both third generation dairy farmers. Agriculture is in their blood, and the couple shares a two-pronged mission: to run a dairy farm where cow comfort is a top priority, and to educate people about life on a family farm.
From the break of dawn until 9:30pm, Katie and her husband tackle their dual purpose. Together, they tend to their 800 cows daily. When they can spare some time, they welcome visitors to their dairy farm for informational tours.
Their days are long but rewarding. “The main goal is to make sure the cows are well taken care of and then you get up the next day and do it all over again with a smile,” says Katie, who’s committed to making every day as much fun as possible. Her passion for cow care coupled with a sincere appreciation for the humor in everyday farm life drives her.
What responsible farming and cow care really look like
When it comes to her cows, Katie’s main goal is to provide a safe, comfortable environment. The way she sees it, there’s a direct link between cow comfort and the quality of the product she’s able to put on the dairy shelves at the grocery store. Ultimately, like most dairy farmers across the country, Katie takes good care of her cows so they’re well positioned to provide nutrient rich food to families. In this way, responsible farming benefits cows and consumers equally.
So what does cow comfort entail, exactly? It’s actually more complicated than you might think! It’s all in the details, according to Katie.
“You always want to give your cows a clean, dry place to chill out in,” she explains. Since cows tend to thrive at a particular temperature, there are fans installed throughout the Cow Comfort Inn barns regulating the air. Sprinklers are also triggered automatically to cool the cows every so often.
With a chuckle, Katie adds that her cows have been wearing pedometers (similar to the Fitbits humans favor) since the 90s. These bracelets track her cows’ steps, and she and her husband measure the data closely through an app. Fun fact: Cows take an average 55 steps per hour, and if a cow is being much more active (taking anywhere near 200 steps per hour), it’s an indication that she’s in heat.
Dairy farm advocacy through farm tours (and more)
Katie and her husband lead farm tours because they believe in the value of getting people out onto the land, so they can experience things firsthand. “Being able to see our cows and ask questions in person makes things click for our guests,” says Katie.
She guides groups of up to 50 individuals on tours that last about 90 minutes. The visitors don’t seem to realize how many questions they’ll have until they arrive, and Katie is more than happy to answer them. Generally, when people see what Katie and her husband are up to day to day, they’re impressed by the amount of compassion and thoughtfulness involved in running a dairy farm.
“Farm tours are really effective,” says Katie as she reflects on the impact she has in closing knowledge gaps for curious guests. “People just want to know where their food comes from, which is understandable.” By her assessment, people leave with much more appreciation for how a dairy farm works, and what it takes to put food on their table.
Katie also accepts two to three speaking engagements per month, educating groups of up to 500 about the measures she takes to ensure her cows’ comfort. “Whenever I can get my name on an agenda to educate people, I will.”
Building a sense of community in real life, and digitally
“I’d much rather someone ask me a question than Google the answer,” Katie says. Indeed, her educational measures go beyond farm tours and speaking engagements. If someone can’t make it out to the farm, she encourages them to reach out to her through social media using the hashtag: #AskAFarmerNotGoogle.
In another inspired moment, Katie, along with her friend Jessica Peters of Spruce Row Farms, started a phenomenon known as the Dairy Dance Off. One day, dressed in coveralls and a hat, Katie filmed herself dancing to a popular song on her farm and sent it to Jessica, who encouraged her to post the clip to social media. “Even though I might look like an idiot, if it makes someone smile or laugh, it would be worth it,” she figured.
Katie’s video soon went viral. Dairy industry professionals across the world followed suit, filming similarly silly clips of themselves dancing in their barns, on tractors, and in the middle of fields. The movement Katie and Jessica started forged a sense of kinship between farmers who had never met in real life and probably never would. It also speaks to Katie’s core mission—to care for her cows properly, and to bring people together through sharing her personal dairy farming experience.
To see more inspiring stories from the people who are connecting you with the dairy on your plate, head to undeniably dairy.org/devoted.