June is Dairy Month. All across our district folks are getting up early Saturday morning and heading to an area farm for breakfast. Sponsored by each county’s Dairy Promotion Committee, the Dairy Breakfast is an opportunity for city and country people to meet, share food and fellowship and learn more about a neighbor’s dairy operation.
Farm families selected to host a county dairy breakfast spend months cleaning up the farm, repainting fences, turning hay fields into parking lots and praying for good weather. Cows are clean, barns are whitewashed, milk houses - normally the cleanest place on the farm anyway - are scrubbed sparkling.
A beautiful Saturday dawns and a thousand people are served breakfast in three or four hours. Children enjoy a petting zoo, the oldsters enjoy the horse drawn wagon and everyone has a chance to see dairy farming in action.
Showcasing Wisconsin’s famous dairy industry -or shall I say lifestyle - the county dairy breakfast takes place all over the state. Our local farmers join 75 farms this month that invite the public to see dairy farming of the 21st century.
In the fifteen years since I became involved in the dairy business, times have changed. Farmers have aged, farms have grown larger and have more cows, and these cows produce more milk. In the last fifteen years, the average dairy farmer is over age 50; the average dairy farm size increased from 293 acres to 370; the average dairy herd grew from 50 to 88 cows and milk production from just one of those cows jumped from 14,737 pounds to 19,310 pounds.
Some of the milk produced becomes Wisconsin cheese. Our state gained dominance in the development of specialty cheeses - producing over 600 varieties - more than any single country! Wisconsin is the only state with a Master Cheesemaker Certification and the specialty cheeses they craft have won more championship awards than any other state - including California.
Wisconsin also leads the country in converting cow manure to electricity. No other Midwest State is even close. Wisconsin’s 24 operational anaerobic-digester projects significantly outnumber the next highest Midwestern states of Ohio and Indiana - both with only six. The digester produces electricity with manure from six cows enough to create one kilowatt of electricity.
One thing that has not changed is the wear and tear farming puts on one’s body. Like many of my neighbors, I spent too many hours kneeling under my cows cleaning teats. Help arrived too late to modernize our tie stall barn. The modern milking parlor spares the knees by putting udders at chest level and bringing the cows come to the milker, rather than the old fashioned way.
This summer many of you will see me at the dairy breakfasts, festivals, parades and fairs. Most likely, I will be hobbling around on crutches as I recover from knee replacement surgery - both of my knees were shot.
But the backbreaking, or in my case, knee busting work makes a dairy farmer strong even when times are tough. Milk prices have hit all time lows in the past few years. Although prices are slowly improving, many farmers face financial problems. Because dairy farming is a 24/7 job, it’s difficult to keep off farm employment - leaving dairy farmers among those most likely to have no or little health insurance.
So take time this June to salute our hard working dairy farmers. And take the family out to breakfast on the farm. You are sure to find a dairy breakfast somewhere in the neighborhood.
And for those farmers out to see what the neighbors did that might work on their farm - I’ve got a four row corn planter I’d love to sell. Cheap!
County Date Location Time
Eau Claire 6/11/10 Eau Claire Co. Expo Center 5am-10am
Trempealeau 6/12/10 Weimer Farm - Arcadia 6am-11am
Pepin 6/19/10 More-to-Do Farm - Lima 7am-11am
La Crosse 6/19/10 Creamery Creek-Bangor 6am-11am
Buffalo 6/26/10 Rotering Farm-Alma 7am-12pm