In honor of June Dairy Month, this month’s Leaders of the Land™ feature is Rick Roden, a dairy farmer from West Bend, Wis.

Introduce yourself and tell us about your farm.

I’m Rick Roden from Roden Echo Valley in West Bend. I farm with my dad and uncle. We milk 850 cows on a 40-stall rotary parlor.

What does sustainability mean to you?

Sustainability means being successful. We are a multi-generational family farm and are hoping to set up the next generation to be successful here, as well.

What conservation practices do you use on your farm?

We have been experimenting with different conservation practices for over ten years and have found success using cover crops on our fields. Keeping a living plant growing year-round helps to protect the soil and absorb nutrients from the sun. The roots keep the soil in the place where it belongs and prevent manure, soil and fertilizer from running off.

Who do you partner with to help reach your sustainability goals?

We are members of the Clean Farm Families farmer-led watershed group in Ozaukee County. We work together with other farmers in our area to share ideas and try new conservation practices. Collaborating with other area farmers helped us learn what is best for the land and best for the environment in our area.

How do you protect the water?

We want to keep our water as safe and healthy as possible. Planting cover crops helps us keep water clean because the living plant and root system hold the soil and nutrients in place.

My family drinks from the wells on the farm and we are 100% certain that the water is safe for us to drink.

How does technology help you be more sustainable?

We built our new rotary parlor to be more efficient. We use a Future Cow brush to clean and prep the cow’s teats for milking. Milk meters track how much milk each cow is giving a day. We also use an automatic teat spray robot when the cows are about to get off the rotary to disinfect their teats before they go back to lay down in their stalls.

Every cow on our farm wears a collar – like her own personal Fitbit. We track their activity and rumination. We track activity for breeding purposes – when a cow is in heat, she is more active which tells us she is ready to be bred. Rumination tells us when our cows aren’t feeling good so we can step in and help them feel better.

Why are cows the ultimate recycler?

Eighty percent of what a cow eats is feed that we as humans cannot consume. The corn, alfalfa hay, soybeans and wheat I grow on my farm can’t be digested by humans, but a cow can consume all of those products and turn them into milk. That milk is made into products that we can enjoy like cheese, ice cream, yogurt and butter.

Cows also produce manure. Manure is the best fertilizer we can put on our land to help our corn, hay, soybeans and wheat grow to feed our cows. It really comes full circle: I grow the crops to feed the cows, the cows use that feed to make milk that is made into dairy products for us to enjoy and the cow produces manure that is used to fertilize the crops that we plant.