Rodney Elliott started his first dairy farm in Ireland with 20 cows and a big dream. Over time, he added 120 cows to the herd with goals to keep growing, but European grazing systems and government-established quotas stood in his way.
That’s when Rodney, his wife, Dorothy, and their three children looked toward America to realize the family dream.
After a visit to South Dakota and a lot of planning, they sold their farm in Ireland and founded Drumgoon Dairy near Lake Norden. Together, Rodney and Dorothy built high-tech dairy barns to house 1,400 cows and hired a team of dedicated employees to help in the day-to-day work. In the beginning, delegating cow care was difficult because Rodney was used to tending to each cow himself.
“I had to learn to trust other people to do the job,” said Rodney. “And accept the fact that sometimes they’re actually better at doing a job than I am.”
South Dakota dairy farmers like Rodney can manage larger, family-owned dairy farms because of the methods they use. In barns, farmers and employees can watch over each cow, protect them from the elements and feed them custom diets tailored to their needs.
Today, the Elliotts and 45 employees care for more than 4,700 cows each day and work together to grow the alfalfa and corn used to feed them. Rodney and Dorothy’s animal nutritionist helps them develop total mixed rations, which are precise combinations of ingredients designed to fit the needs of each cow. For example, ingredients like soybean meal may be added for extra protein and soybean hulls can be included for additional fiber. On average, South Dakota dairy cows eat 18,000 tons of soybean meal each year.
Farming in a way that is safe for the environment and helps protect soil and water for future generations is a priority for the Elliotts. They care deeply about their community, especially since everyone warmly welcomed them when they moved to the area. Since their dairy barns are newly built, Rodney ensured they comply with EPA standards from the start.
“We try to be good custodians of the land,” explained Rodney. “I treat my farm, not as a right, but as a privilege, and I work every day to keep that privilege.”
The Elliott family has an open-door policy at Drumgoon Dairy and welcomes visitors to stop by and see how a modern dairy is run.
“We are proud of what we do and like to share our story with those who want to learn more about where their food comes from,” said Rodney. “Come and look at the cows yourself. They always answer the questions. If they look content, they’re comfortable.”
Hungry for Truth is an initiative about food and farming funded by the South Dakota soybean checkoff. The goal is to connect South Dakotans with the farmers who grow and raise their food.