If you told me I’d be spending a sunny spring weekend at a dairy barn in Iowa with my three high maintenance city kids – and that they wouldn’t want to leave when it was over – I’d have laughed in your face. Well, that’s actually exactly what happened. So either I don’t give my kids enough credit or this place was just that memorable and relaxing. (I think it’s both.)
New Day Dairy GuestBarn was exactly the lead-off we needed going in to sunshine season. It was literally the freshest of air, open fields, wildflowers, gravel roads, and experiences perfectly fitting for my family. From milking a cow to playing with the barn cats to scooping poop to naming a calf to watching a baby be born in the comfort of our pajamas from giant guest house windows, it was a lovely adventure for this MinneMama family and we would absolutely #SleepWithTheCows again.
The dairy barn is located in Clarksville, Iowa – about three solid hours from the Minneapolis area, so a pretty tolerable road trip. The roads leading up to the barn are gravel and there aren’t a ton of stopping points from Minneapolis unless you want to visit the RAD Zoo in Owatonna to hold some reptiles or stop at a Casey’s General Store to let the kids pick out a treat. We also stopped at the Top of Iowa Welcome Center, which is shaped like a barn and has a gift shop, restrooms, vending machines and usually hosts a pie and coffee shop (which was closed when we passed through – sad day. I love pie more than life itself).
When we pulled up to the guest house, we were all raring with excitement. The place is huge, the landscaping is beautiful and the smell is authentic. With an easy keypad entry, we walked in to a spacious, clean and ADORABLE (I can’t stress this word enough!) guest house. The colors made me smile – lime greens and bright yellows covering the walls, farm-themed artwork throughout, cute touches everywhere you looked, and a fully stocked fridge with continental breakfast items (including pastries from Danielle’s, a local maker who I plan to order from on the regular), visitors pamphlets, board games, an outdoor fire pit and homemade cow soap. It felt homey and comfortable and I was immediately relaxed. I’m also a bit of a snob when it comes to cleanliness (I get it from my mama) and this place nailed it! The bedding was soft too (my 66 year-old dad made sure I mentioned that in this post because he raved about it incessantly).
When we arrived, we were greeted with their introductory tour. This and the farewell tour are included in your stay, and additional hands-on tours can be purchased for additional prices (more on that later). The wonderful, kind, and well-spoken Lynn, owner of the guest barn, gave us a short tour through the barn where we could pet and feed the cows and learn about the history and life of the farm and these animals. We also saw Rita the Robot, a high-tech milking machine that blew my mom’s mind (she was the daughter of dairy farmer in the 1960s, so it was crazy for her to see how far it’s come since then).
She told us we could head down the private path for a peaceful walk, play with the kitties, go into one of the nearby towns, enjoy an outdoor fire in the garden, or simply watch the cows from the upstairs windows. The guest barn also comes with games and toys for the kids, coloring books, puzzles, and a selection of movies.
We signed the kids up to do the “Be A Dairy Farmer Challenge” hands-on tour and did not regret this decision! In fact, it was their favorite part of the weekend (other than playing with all the baby kitties of course). I’ll be honest – the cost upfront to pay an additional $135 for the tour may sound steep, but you really DO get the true farmer experience. And for this mom – with city kids who are used to playing video games and complaining about having to put their already-folded clothes away in their rooms – I was thrilled to see them learn the inner-workings of where their food and milk comes from.
Having a dairy barn is no joke. It comes with chores that start before the sun comes up and end when the sun goes down. It was eye-opening for them all – even my 11-year old – to get out there with plastic boot covers over their tennis shoes and shovel cow poop, milk a cow, and feed a baby calf. And let me tell you, feeding a baby calf is WAY more work than it is adorable-sounding! It was like being inside a WWE ring. Our kids enjoyed the challenge, the education and the whole darn experience. And I enjoyed watching them learn and appreciate. Win-win. Plus, you get a cute t-shirt that says you finished the Dairy Farmer Challenge.
Farmer Dan, owner and “head farmer”, gave us the tour and he was funny and great with kids (having three of his own, he’s well practiced). He took them on tractor rides and did a wonderful job answering questions, explaining the process of how milk gets made, and even played a little barn piano for the cows (and us….he’s VERY good). While I got my jollies watching the kids shovel cow poop, they liked learning about Rita the Robot the most, an automated cow-milked machine that uses “robot hands’, 3D imaging technology and a complicated programming system that remembers every one of their 120 cows and what their needs are. It. Was. Crazy. I’ve never seen anything like it.
I do have to say how much care and love is oozingly evident at New Day Dairy GuestBarn. They just LOVE what they do, and watching Farmer Dan slosh through poop, bringing energy to the tour and empathize with the mama cows who just delivered a baby and just need a hug, it was really remarkable to see. I know this is their family business. It’s been in Dan’s family for 5 generations – since 1890. But the passion runs deep and the space is huge, the cows are well cared for, and the system is as productive as I’ve ever seen (albeit I don’t frequent dairy barns). That part, combined with the unique experience of staying on an actual working dairy farm, makes this a super fun family adventure.
After the “Be A Dairy Farmer Challenge”, we bundled up for a quiet walk down the private path near the barn. The owners live on-site and said we were welcome to roam that area, which also overlooks the original family farm a short distance away. The trail is long and the kid’s energy was high, so it was a good decision. We picked wildflowers and chatted peacefully under the quiet, covered arches of the trees – and it felt so different from the go-go-go lifestyle we live back home. I kept telling myself to “Remember this feeling. Bottle it up for when I’m on my fourth carpool drop-off of the day. Breathe and soak it all in.” Nature is fantastic.
It’s amazing how much you can fit into a day. We had plenty of time to discover some of the local cities surround the dairy barn. Our family’s choice was Waverly, a city 20 minutes from the barn with a cute river cutting Main Street in half, boutique shops, a couple parks, ice cream, a bakery, a brewery, and Casa Robles Taqueria (the Mexican restaurant my son demanded I include in this blog post because his burrito bites were the “best ever!”). Other cities nearby that would make for a nice outing include Clarksville, Charles City, and Waterloo. The New Day Dairy Barn website has a thorough overview of each of these options here.
I really wanted to make it to the Rockford Fossil & Prairie Park where you can find real fossils, but time didn’t allow. And next time, we might bring bikes because there are some nice trails that would’ve been a fun way to get around. Oh, and white water rafting down the Charles City River would’ve been fun too!
Too much to do, never enough time. Story of our lives, right?
We returned back to the guest barn just in time for our DIY pizza night dinner, one of the many dine-in options New Day provides for an additional charge. We chose the pizza (because pizza is life), but they also offer root beer floats, make-your-own-ice-cream, hot chocolate bombs and a charcuterie board.
Then it was time to settle in for the night. We played some card games, mixed some drinks, and took some time to enjoy the cow-viewing window. When the kids went to sleep, we could close the doors to their bedrooms and stayed up to chat with my parents, which is always a treat.
You can tell a lot of thought went in to the guest barn, which was built in 2015 and started renting out in January 2020. The layout of the guest barn is ideal for families with up to three bedrooms (during reservation time, you let them know how many of the bedrooms you will need, and they open them based on your request, payment depends on quantity of needed rooms), each room has its own private full bathroom, and there is a beautiful open kitchen and dining area with a large table, a couple cute sitting areas and the large window area upstairs that overlooks the dairy barn where you can sit and watch all 120 cows just doing their thing 24 hours a day. There is a pullout sofa bed upstairs as well as one TV, a well-stocked refrigerator and ample kitchen appliances, dishes and gadgets.
According to Lynn, the winter season is far quieter than fall and then of course summer is the busiest. But don’t worry – baby calves are born all year long! The likelihood of being there during a birth is high and if a female calf is born during your stay, you get to NAME HER!
We had a red-and-white calf born during our stay and I thought my daughter was going to die of excitement. She ruminated on a name for days and I finally wound up emailing the owners with her decision (for curious minds, she was torn between naming her after a Hamilton cast member, a character from Gravity Falls, or just something random – which was the option she went with. “JELLY” is now a Mabel-named member of the New Day Dairy family).
Following a wonderful night’s sleep (and, no, the guest barn does not smell like manure, not even one tiny bit), we finished off the last of the morning yogurts, bagels and pastries and got packed up to go home. I don’t know how many times I heard, “Can we stay just a little bit longer?” and “I’m just gonna go play with the kitties for 5 more minutes.” Honestly, I could’ve probably spent another few hours with my coffee sitting in the garden with the fresh country air kissing my cheeks, but alas, the 11am checkout time came fast.
There is a farewell tour also offered and we totally took them up on it – any chance to be more hands-on with the cows and calves was going to make my kids happy. We got to see the inside of the barn one more time and said goodbye to the cute lineup of baby calves outside the main barn.
Our stay was so wonderful – we are happy we decided to visit. It’s been a few weeks since our visit and the kids still comment on Rita the Robot or where their breakfast milk comes from or how slimy that calf was when it came out of its mama (ew, sorry). My point is, it’s stuck with them and they learned a lot and we created some unique memories.
If you’re looking for something out of the ordinary, this is that experience! Whether your children dream of being farmers or they’ve never heard of an udder before (like my 5-year old…who was confident that cows just pee out the milk we drink….oh dear…), New Day Dairy GuestBarn is an off-the-beaten path, peaceful and special adventure for the whole family. Our clan certainly recommends it and we hope you consider booking your stay soon!