The dairy industry is relevant to everyone (as is all of agriculture) whether or not you are a farmer. If you enjoy cream in your coffee, cheese in any form or ice cream, this industry is important.
Indiana is a relatively small state and is one of the smallest west of the Appalachian Mountains. However, Indiana is strong in a lot of agricultural industries and ranks 2nd in ice cream production and 14th overall in milk production. The average dairy farm here is somewhere around 150 cows and there's a good variety of types of farms ranging from those where cows are primarily grazing on pasture to always lounging and socializing in a freestall barn with a temperature-controlled environment to keep them comfortable year round. There are smaller dairies and there are larger dairies.
Farm size has little to do with how the cows are cared for. The larger dairies may hire more employees or have more family members involved to help take care of the cows.
The values and work ethic is generally the same across all types and sizes of farms.
Indiana is home to approximately 1200 dairy farms of various sizes with a total of 182,000 cows. The United States is home to between 9.2 and 9.3 million dairy cows. All of these farms provide jobs for the families that run them and other people that are employed by them on the farm. In addition to on-farm jobs, these dairies work with numerous consultants ranging from their co-op field rep that assists them with milk quality to their animal nutritionist to their veterinarian to the many other vendors that provide services to keep cows and equipment running properly. Many of these jobs would not exist without the farms themselves.
Then we get to the folks that are responsible for transporting milk from the farm to the processing plant. Milk haulers are important people. As are the lab technicians that test the milk arriving from the farm for antibiotics (very few loads test positive and those that do are sent away, never reaching the food supply) and all others working at the processing plants that turn milk from the farm into the delicious products you purchase from the grocery store. Then, these products head to retail where you, the consumer, can purchase them. As you can see, these products create a lot of jobs! And most of the money is spent in the local community, which further boosts the economy.
The internet has opened a whole new world to consumers when it comes to connecting with the people that produce their food. More and more farmers are writing blogs and creating social media pages to talk about agriculture. If you are interested in connecting with these folks, a quick google search can help you find them. Progressive Dairyman magazine also compiled a list of dairy bloggers a few years ago. Click here to see the list.