IT may have been a pipe dream until recently, but cow manure now not only produces electricity to fuel homes and farms, but also vehicles. 
Add to that a feed additive that could reduce methane production by up to 40% and dairy farming could soon well become carbon neutral!
By maximising the welfare needs of animals and indeed the environment, Mike McCloskey, co-founder and CEO of Select Milk Producers and general manager and partner of Fair Oaks Dairy Farms, in America, intends to do just that.
As it is, Fair Oaks’ flagship farm in Indiana is able to convert cow manure into methane to power dairies and, in turn, produce compressed natural gas (CNG) with which to fuel the company’s fleet of 42 CNG powered tractor trailers. 
This one critical innovation has eliminated no fewer than 12m miles-worth of fossil fuel emissions annually. As a result, this big man, who is a vet to trade, aims to eventually run the world’s first dairy farm with a carbon neutral footprint.
“Manure is one of our biggest qualities as it produces so many unbelievable products,” said Mike. 
“It can produce energy to power the barns, methane to fuel vehicles, dried cow bedding and even fertilisers. And, by extracting the nitrogen and phosphorus from the remaining slop, through an artificial wetland to grow a high protein duckfeed to feed cows, we also hope to be able reduce the serious problem of eutrophication in water courses,” he said.
While the development of this new ‘green’ energy, is taking up much of Mike’s time now, it is nevertheless, milk and the marketing of this natural product, which has enabled him and his wife Sue to consider ‘green’ farming.
“Milk has always intrigued me because as far as I’m concerned it’s the most natural and wholesome food there is, and yet demand and sales for fresh milk have been declining over the past 30 years,” he said. 
“Demand for fluid milk has slipped due to lifestyle changes, with more interest in yoghurt and cheese. Somehow, the desirability of milk has been lost.”
He believed milk in plastic bottles no longer tasted of milk when it is processed so much and therefore set about trying to revolutionise the industry to bring back the ‘natural fresh flavour’ of milk straight out of the bulk tank.
“Everyone drinks milk when they are young, but the quality of some of the milk produced ‘sucks’ when you think of how it is produced. Milk in plastic containers tastes of cardboard, as so much is produced without any consideration to the care or welfare of the cow or the conditions in which she is milked in,” he said, adding that somatic cell and bacteria counts can be particularly high on many dairy farms.
In turn, he set about transforming the traceability, transparency and quality of the milk produced through Select Milk Producers, a co-operative based on producing milk of an extremely high quality.
“We were already doing a pretty good job at producing good quality milk which was all traceable, all we needed to do was make a few adjustments, and look to package and brand our milk better. Everyone loves a good story behind a brand and we have one to tell,” he said pointing out that there are 99 farms in the co-op supporting 34 families. All boast extremely ‘high welfare’ milk with SCC of less than 150. 
Hence, Fairlife milk was created, which now commands a premium at the top end of the market and one on a par with organic milk. Demand for the product is growing too, with increased sales of the product higher than any other milk brand.
It does, though have some unique qualities in that shelf life has been extended to 90 days by heating the milk to 265° for four seconds. Premium value products have also been added to the range, including health drinks containing up to 40% protein, 30% more calcium and reduced lactose.
Now the sixth largest milk co-operative in the US, Select Milk Producers, along with Fair Oaks Farms, is a highly rated and visited agritourism destination in north-west Indiana, which now brands and processes its own bottled milk, gourmet cheese and ice cream. 
Adding another string to their bow is the fact that proprietary value-added dairy products have been created under the Select and its affiliate Fair Oaks Farms Brands. 
Products such as Mootopia, a high protein, low sugar, lactose free milk that is sold by Texas-based HEB and Select’s privately owned Core Power, a specially formulated athletic drink, are among Fair Oaks Farms’ brand achievements. 
Currently, Fair Oaks is providing a low-sugar, flavoured milk to the renowned Elsie Whitlow Stokes Charter School in Washington, DC Through the use of its patented concentrating and dispensing machines, Fair Oaks Farms Brands is helping Elsie Whitlow, as well as the US Armed Forces, deliver a healthier product while significantly lowering the carbon footprint of its distribution.
Fairy Oaks Dairy Farms milks 15,000 cows living in free-stall barns and is recognised as being one of the leading dairy units in the US from many perspectives. Committed to educating the public about modern farming techniques, through to producing products from well cared for animals and to the highest quality standards, it also looks to protect the environment by running their operations on ‘poo power.’
With so many strings to his bow, Mike is, not surprisingly, the face and the name on one of the largest dairy empires in America. The McCloskey, Bos, den Dulk, Schakel and Van Ravenswaay families own the farms surrounding Fair Oaks Farms, which, in turn, has also become the site and brand synonymous with agritourism. 
Their market, bakery, café, Mooville play area, garden, and Dairy and Pig Adventures draw in excess of 500,000 visitors per year, while the co-operative family at SMP, are located on farms in New Mexico, Texas, Indiana, Michigan and Wisconsin.
“We believe in always doing the right thing,” Mike said, noting the co-op was founded on honesty, trust, transparency, service and quality. “Because we were founded on those principles, I tell my fellow co-op CEOs that I have it easy. We get to pick our members.”
The McCloskeys admit transparency does not translate into sharing economic competitive advantages into producing milk, and especially not their intellectual property rights. Instead, they argue, farmers should think collectively about competing against juice, fizzy drinks and other beverages in the market.
Hence, they looked to the real big boys in the beverage market and in 2012 Coca-Cola joined as a partner in Fairlife in 2012, with the result that their high-protein, low-lactose milks – produced through a cold-filtration process – are now sold in stores nationwide. 
“It’s all about the taste of milk,” said Mike. “Fairlife milk tastes how milk used to taste. It’s a protein that functions and was never denatured, compared to other products in the category. 
“Get that right and it’s about all the other things people should care about, things they associate with being sustainable.”