Connecting with Students is Priority for South Dakota Farmer

  • Heidi Selken

Making sure that 2,100 dairy cows are healthy, fed and well-cared-for is a big job. As herd manager for Boadwine Dairy in Baltic, South Dakota, Heidi Selken takes on that responsibility every day. She ensures that the right mix of feed ingredients are delivered, sick cows are monitored and provided appropriate care, cows visit the milking parlor three times each day, and she is able to track each cow’s health and production through the farm’s management software.

Over the years, Heidi has also taken on another important role: sharing her dairy farming story with students, tour groups and through social media channels. From corresponding with classrooms to giving tours and posting photos and farm updates, she has made it a priority to communicate what happens at the dairy farm each day.

Heidi sees interaction with the consumers who buy dairy products as an important part of her job.

“The best part of my job is sharing the story of dairy farming with people,” she said. “Consumers want to know what we do and why. As farmers, we need to put more of ourselves out there and share what we do.”

Heidi is part of an Adopt A Farmer program where she records short videos each month during the school year to send to several fourth grade classrooms across the state. The videos include updates on what is happening at the farm that month, including harvesting or planting crops, and caring for animals, and also include questions and information that tie into the state’s fourth grade curriculum. The students watch the videos and send Heidi any questions they have. Heidi also visits each classroom in person once a year.

She also visits local classrooms during National Ag Week and gives tours of Boadwine Farms for bus tours, community groups and daycares throughout the year. Heidi also maintains the Boadwine Farms Facebook page to share their story of South Dakota agriculture.

Heidi grew up on a South Dakota dairy farm and farmed with her parents until 2000. She has worked for Boadwine Farms for 15 years, starting as a calf feeder and working her way to herd manager. She and her 10-year-old son Brody live near Colton, S.D.

Over the years, she has learned to tailor every tour or presentation to the age and interests of each group.

“Young children are most excited to see the calves and how the cows are milked, then they will start asking lots of questions,” she said.” Adults often come with questions about things they have heard on social media or from friends.”

She takes time to understand their questions and provide the background for why something is done on a farm. For example, many people have questions about what antibiotics or medicines are given to cows. She can explain that medicines are provided when an animal is sick, but more importantly that drugs are administered under oversight of a veterinarian, that milk from cows who are treated is kept separate from the rest of the farm’s milk, and that every truckload of milk is sampled at the farm and the processing plant to make sure it is free of antibiotics or other contaminants.

“It is rewarding to be able to not just show people what we do, but explain why and answer the questions they have,” Heidi said. “Everyone is just trying to do the best they can for their families, so it is important they feel good about the dairy products they enjoy.”

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