We are just completing our new 4,000-head dairy in northeastern Colorado. Like most dairies, a great deal of thought went into where we would locate it, how we would finance it and how we’d lay it out.  Unlike most new dairies, though, we had NO opposition to our proposal. In fact, our permit hearing was more like the eulogy you would love to hear if you didn’t have to die first.

Why was our permit hearing different than many? We could argue that we were careful in choosing a location with few neighbors, no high-end housing set to begin, or an activist next door. We could also argue that we located where we had lots of amenities like water, electricity, gas and paved access all on our property borders, so we weren’t disrupting someone else’s supply line. Perhaps it was the professional firm that put together our materials for the permit, but I believe it was our communication that did the trick.

Like cows fearing what lies beneath a cattle guard, people fear the unknown or unexplained and often feel compelled to make up horrifying monsters. We did our best to put a positive light on those dark areas. Here’s what we did:

The personal visit

My husband and I visited every neighbor with property that adjoined the dairy site — and many beyond. We went to each of their homes, so they were in a non-threatening environment. We chose to meet with each household individually; that way, concerns voiced by one wouldn’t catch on with those who hadn’t thought of them. And, individual meetings also helped eliminate grandstanding and the escalation of emotions that often occur with “town meetings.” While our process was not as efficient as a town meeting, it was easier to address individual concerns, and emotions were easier to keep in check.

We visited with everyone before they heard that we were going to build a dairy. We wanted to give them special status as the guys “in the know” and to avoid the rumor mill and speculation.

We took maps (but did not give them a copy) to show what we were doing, as well as the local zoning and planning regulations that helped spell out what everyone’s rights were. This seemed to stop folks from making up the rules when they really weren’t certain what they were.

Other leaders tell our story

We also told our story to local business leaders who, in turn, credibly told the local gossips the real story.  Then, these respected leaders shared their thoughts at the permit hearing, so planning and zoning commissioners felt safe granting our permit.

Our local economic development organization created and presented reports on revenues generated from outside sources, job creation and secondary jobs (like hay growers, hoof trimmers, suppliers) that benefit from our business.

Our milk cooperative sent a well-versed professional to testify about our previous milk quality, herdsmanship, civic responsibility and the economic benefits gained from marketing milk.

Location, location, location

I am sure it helped that the new dairy is located close to our current dairy where we have a reputation for running a solid, environmentally friendly operation. We were already involved in our local community, so many folks knew us personally and trusted us. We investigated the pitfalls and had a solution for problems because we were well-versed with the area. And, we knew what the local “panic buttons” were.

We approached communication like we would a flighty heifer needing to go through a gate. We planned ahead, moved slowly, methodically, respectfully, and never let her fears get the best of her — and then realizing even when she’s through the gate, our job’s not over yet.

Mary Kraft dairies with her husband, Chris, near Fort Morgan, Colo.