Greetings and salutations,
Here in Wisconsin, America’s Dairyland, June is Dairy Month and it’s celebrated in every corner of the state with great enthusiasm. There are tons of local, county and statewide events celebrating everything dairy. Here in the Madison area the very popular Cows on the Concourse, takes place the first Saturday of June on the State Capitol grounds and attracts a large crowd especially for those young kids who get to pet a newborn calf. Then there is the subject of this post, the Dane County Breakfast on the Farm. Nearly 6000 people from all walks of life trekked last Saturday to the Blue Star Dairy in Middleton for not only the delicious breakfast but to see a working farm up close and personal.
A quick Google search turned up 55 dairy related events around the state during the month of June, sponsored by local and county dairy promotion committees, FFA Chapters, 4-H Clubs, and other civic minded groups. Dairy cattle farming is big business here in Wisconsin. Each of the 1.2 million cows in Wisconsin contribute about $34,000 of economic benefit to the state. These cows live on over 9500 dairy farms with an average herd size of about 125 cows with a range of a few cows to over 10,000 in a herd. While Wisconsin holds the title of “America’s Dairyland” California actually is the number 1 dairy state in the country with Wisconsin being a close second, followed by New York, Michigan and Idaho. About 90% of the milk from Wisconsin cows is processed into cheese, over 25% of all the cheese produced in the U.S. Wisconsin ranks number one in cheese production with cheddar, mozzarella, provolone, brick and munster varieties leading the way. Did you know that Wisconsin produces almost 80% of the feta cheese and 100% of the limburger cheese sold in the U.S.? This is useful information that could come in handy in a trivia contest!
Our trip out to the Blue Star Dairy started early to get ahead of the crowds. It’s only about 20 minutes from our house so it was a quick trip arriving just after they started serving at 7:00 AM, parking was efficient in a newly mowed field and as a bonus there was a wagon ride to the ticket booth from the parking lot.
A little about the Blue Star Dairy. This dairy farm is owned and operated by a partnership of eleven members of Meinholz family. They have three milking facilities with 600 cows on the farm where the breakfast took place, 850 cows at a farm near DeForest and 1200 cows at farm near Arlington. They farm about 4500 acres of land growing corn, hay, wheat, rye and soybeans. They employ over 60 additional workers to accomplish all these tasks. We know some of the Meinholz family from our many years of involvement in 4-H and I can attest they are some of the hardest working and nicest people I know.
We were hungry so after buying our breakfast tickets, we headed to the food line. During the ten minutes we had to wait in line, we were entertained by the dad behind us explaining to his young son about girl cows were the ones giving milk and the role of boy cows in this process! For a couple of former farm kids, we had a good chuckle but the dad did a pretty good job of explaining and answering questions.
Once we reach the serving lines (there were four) things really moved along.
In no time at all we had a full plate of scrambled eggs, sausage, pancakes, a cheese stick, and plenty of condiments and headed off to find a place to sit.
Even though it was early in the day (they served until 11:30 AM), the machine shed now serving as a dining hall was full.
It was an enjoyable place to watch people especially the kids.
After breakfast and a couple cups of coffee, we decided to wander around the farm to see the cows. But first we checked out where the “herd” of volunteers was preparing the food when we ran across this young man obviously connected to the dairy industry and had an interesting saying on the back of his shirt!
At the food prep tent, we saw how they were able to make all those pancakes, eggs and sausage. Go figure, a machine that dispenses pancake batter onto the griddle, I was fascinated!
Our first stop was to watch all the folks lined up for the fun horse-drawn wagon ride that also double as a guided, narrated, educational tour around the cattle yard.
Next was a stop at the maternity ward. Not much was happening at the moment but as a trained observer of dairy cows it looked like a couple of babies would be born within the next few hours.
Up the hill, there were two large calf barns. When the calves are weaned from the mother, they are placed in small fiberglass huts where they have dry bedding and some outside room to roam. I was impressed that the volunteers staffing this station were letting the little kids help feed the hungry calves.
Ronald McDonald made an appearance at the calf barn, well because that’s where all the kids were! Don’t you wonder what that little girl is chewing on him about, she with her hands on her hips.
On the way to our next stop, we ran into the “head cheeses!” Jen, Mike, Katie, and Kristen are the friendly, enthusiastic organizers of the Breakfast on the Farm for the Dane County Dairy Promotion Committee. While the Meinholz family provides the facilities, these folks organize the hundreds of volunteers, food, equipment, contacts with the media, line up the sponsors and entertainment and all the other details associated with a large event such as this. And what a great job they do!
Next up was the tour of the milking parlor. The 600 cows on this farm are milked three times a day (4:30 AM, 1 PM, and 8:30 PM), 24 cows at a time, 12 on each side. We only saw one worker when we peered into the gleaming parlor. Looks like he was busy keeping those cows moving through the milking barn.
Just outside the parlor was a robotic milker display made by DeLaval. It’s almost like the cows could milk themselves! Large dairies are adopting these types of technologies because of the difficulty hiring workers willing to milk and take care of cows. So automation is stepping in, a long way from milking cows by hand like in the old days!
After all that walking around, we needed some more nourishment so detoured over to where Culver’s was giving out frozen custard sundaes. (Really, we didn’t need more to eat after that generous breakfast but hey when on a dairy…..you get the drift!) Donna enjoyed a strawberry sundae and I had my fav, a hot fudge. It hit the spot. Nothing like a Culver’s custard on the warm day.
There were a number of displays by businesses and organizations. The second photo is of Tina Hinchley, one of the hardest working people I’ve ever met. She milks 125 cows twice a day and gives farm tours in her spare time! Met her daughter who is in college and plans to follow in her mom’s footsteps. Another generation ready to take over the farm.
Oh, I almost forgot the entertainment. On stage was The Soggy Prairie Boys playing bluegrass and country music for the crowds to enjoy on the warm, sunny day. We also heard from Wisconsin’s Fairest of the Fair and other local dignitaries.
As we were getting ready to leave for home, I was attracted to the display of old and modern farm machinery. In these two photos I’m struck by the size difference in the 50’s model combine and tractor as compared to newest models. My parents had an Oliver 88 and at the time it was quite an improvement over the old Minneapolis Moline tractor. We went from a 3 bottom plow to a 4 bottom, wouldn’t even make a dent in modern farms.
Then there were the kids climbing on the restored old tractors. Can’t get much cuter than these photo ops.
Also on the way out to the car, we checked out the steam powered tractor that was sawing logs into lumber. It was fascinating to watch.
The day was getting hot and we other things to do so home to air conditioned comfort for a while. We talked on our ride home about how fun it was to be back on the farm, so we plan to attend next year’s Breakfast on the Farm on June 9, 2018. Hope to see you there!
Til next time, travel safe.