In 2008, Mike and Sue McCloskey took a risk and invited Mike Rowe to their dairy, Fair Oaks Farm, to film an episode of Dirty Jobs. That episode literally changed Rowe’s career and provided millions of people around the world an opportunity to see more farms on TV than they ever had before.
“Fair Oaks Farms, in 2008, was the first dairy farm to trust me and to trust Dirty Jobs,” Rowe told U.S. Farm Report’s Tyne Morgan and MILK’s Anna-Lisa Laca at the VAS Connect Summit on Tuesday. “If you're a farmer, right, you know the deal, people show up with cameras it's almost never good, right? If you have a show called “Dirty Jobs” and they want to come and feature your farm, your antenna should go up, you know. But Mike and Sue McCloskey were fans of the show, and they trusted me, and they said, ‘Look, come out with your cameras we’ll show you anything you want to see.’”
What Rowe wanted to show the millions of fans who watched Dirty Jobs was how new life arrives at the dairy. That’s exactly what they did.
“I mean we must have pulled 20 calves that day,” he said. “Everything about the day was interesting, eye opening and difficult. Especially the end of the day when Mike let me assist with a cesarean. I mean who does that?”
McCloskey is a veterinarian as well as a dairy farmer and while Rowe held the uterus of the cow shut after they pulled the calf out, McCloskey stitched her back up. All while the cameras were rolling.
“There was blood and it was crazy and filthy and completely not what the Discovery Channel in 2008 was all about,” he said.
Rowe says the episode aired as the most watched episode of the show up until that point and it changed everything.
“It really changed the notion of curiosity over at Discovery and it changed the kinds of stories that I was allowed to do,” he explained. “That opened the door to artificial insemination and once Dirty Jobs went into AI in earnest, oh, I mean, if Discovery had a head it would have exploded.”
At that point, Dirty Jobs was the No. 1 show on cable and completely off brand for them, Rowe explained.
“So they were constantly trying to balance the spectacle of live births and AI and all of its high definition glory with, you know, the super G rated careful presentation of historical documentaries,” he said. “We were a Jagged Little Pill and it really started on the dairy farm.”
It wasn’t just the Discovery Channel that was changed by the first episode filmed at Fair Oaks Farms, but farmers were changed by it too.
According to Rowe, the McCloskeys understood that they needed to share their story beyond the FFA and that’s why they were willing to go on TV.
“A lot of other farmers and a lot of other areas saw that episode and decided, ‘you know what, let's have Mike out,’” he explained. “Before long I was banding sheep and castrating them up and Craig, Colorado, not far from here and I was, you know, these big laying operations in like Wickenburg and Phoenix. I mean, our crew went to places with cameras that I don't think anybody had been before. And it started with a dairy farm.”