For pig and poultry operations looking to open up the barn doors, it can be a little tricky to safely let consumers get up and close with the animals. That’s why Cooper Farms started adding observation rooms seven years ago.
“Some of the observation rooms are close to seven- years-old now, some are newer,” said Terry Wehrkamp, Cooper Farms Director of Live Production. “Gradually we have tried to have one or two observation rooms per phase of production.”
And as Cooper Farms has found out, if you build it they will come. Wehrkamp estimates the turkey and hog farms located in Northwest and West Central Ohio saw around 800 visitors in 2017.
“Aside from trying to form a very cohesive animal care program, we have made an outreach to the community by putting observation rooms on all the different segments of production on the farm,” Wehrkamp said. “People can come out and filter through these rooms and actually see in the barn and see firsthand what is going on and what we are doing.”
Wehrkamp, who also serves as chairperson of the Animal Agriculture Alliance Board of Directors, said the main reason for the screening rooms was biosecurity, but they also didn’t want to appear that they were trying to keep people out of the barns.
“We really do have an issue in biosecurity because we have the breeding phase, the growing phase, the whole thing,” Wehrkamp said. “To do that in a biosecure way, we opened up those rooms with full glass panels to the barn so people can see people actually working inside the barns.”
The private tours have brought local groups, vet students, and many consumers who have never seen commercial production before coming to Cooper Farms.
“The feedback has been very positive, particularly from the community, younger ag groups, people who are not as in touch with animal agriculture as others and it just seems to be a very positive thing,” Wehrkamp said.
And Wehrkamp said Cooper Farms has been more than happy to address all of their visitors’ questions.
“People want to know about animal care. That is always a top thing,” Wehrkamp said. “People want to know about the production cycle, what happens in the brood barn, how long they are there, when they move to the finishing barn, or a nursery if its pigs. They are interested in how we use antibiotics, whether we use antibiotics, that kind of thing.”
For livestock producers interested in adding observation rooms, Wehrkamp said Cooper Farms often invites others in the industry to check it out.
“We just show what we do and hopefully they get ideas from that,” Wehrkamp said. ‘We’ve come to understand people really want to know where their food comes from, how it’s raised, and I would just encourage everybody in our industry to look at ways they can do that, how can you open up your production facility or barn up to the public.”