There have been 25 Sauk County June Dairy Breakfasts On The Farm since 1989, with Branders Dairy Farm at Spring Green serving as hosts twice — in 2007 and again last Saturday, when over 2,200 visitors ate a hearty breakfast and had a close look at a working dairy farm.
Attending a Dairy Breakfast On The Farm, and there are over 60 of them held or yet to come in June in Wisconsin, is a unique experience. They are not a museum, not a movie, not pictures, but a visit to an actual operating farm with cows, calves, machinery and often times, milking in progress.
City folks marvel at what they see: "Look at the cows waiting their turn," an adult exclaimed as she watched the cows line up at the big back-scratching round brush in the freestall barn. "She even gets her head scratched; she really enjoys it."
Another couple noted the manure scraper being pulled by a cable slowly moving down the aisle between freestalls, and the man commented: "I always wondered how they cleaned the barn. Now I know."
A man with a couple of children, all looking at the display of farm equipment lined up in rows in a field next to the barn, couldn't get over the size of the tractors, baler, corn planter and array of other machines. They couldn't believe how much equipment there was and how big some of the machines were.
"It's been a long time since I've been on a farm," the father said. "Everything is so much bigger and more complicated nowadays. I guess I should get out on a farm more often."
Hundreds, probably thousands, of questions were asked by the visitors as they toured the very modern, freestall dairy barn and milking facility at Branders Dairy Farm. Many of the answers were provided by members of the Brander family — Doug and Joni and son Derek and daughter Chelsea — who were very visible in their neon green T-shirts with their names on the front.
Although this is their second time hosting this event in seven years, the family admits that they enjoyed doing so. "It's really not a lot of work," said host Doug Brander. "Our family enjoys having a couple of thousand visitors — we host other groups — and they certainly enjoy the breakfast and seeing our farm."
Joni said that even cracking the eggs for the scrambled eggs served at the breakfast "wasn't too bad" when done in a group.
Many of the visitors attended both breakfasts but chances are they saw little similarity between the Brander Dairy of 2007 and that of today. While the old dairy facility that included a 1972 Double 6 Surge milking parlor, a 1989 freestall barn and a host of silos located near busy Highway 14 are still sort of intact, they are now mainly used for different purposes.
The new 350 cow freestall barn, Double 10 Germania parlor and 3 million gallon concrete lagoon were built several hundred yards north of the older complex, and the cows made the move in November of 2008.
A lot has happened at Brander's Dairy between the June 2007 Dairy Breakfast and the one held last week. A major flood covered the flat farmland between the 10,000 acres of hills just to the north and U.S. Highway 14 in early 2008, the result of heavy snowfall and spring rains.
The then freestall dairy barn was awash with 6 inches of water, the house basement had 5 feet of water that seeped through the walls and floor and 400 acres of crops were lost. The floodwaters also covered parts of Spring Green three miles away as Highway 14 acted as a dike and caused a huge lake to form (A move to form a water district was ultimately successful, and the threat of future flooding was lessened).
Flood damage, the construction of the new dairy barn, rapidly falling milk prices in the spring of 2009 when Class III milk hit $9.31 in February, and the loss of financing from their major lender meant some financial challenges for the Brander family.
Since the summer of 2012, the family has worked closely with The Peoples Community Bank of Spring Green and their agricultural loan officer Jim Smith and have pretty much recovered from the disastrous flood and its after effects.
Brander's Dairy Farm LLC dates to Doug's grandparents, through his grandparents (Alton and Edna) and parents (Frank and Geraldine), and became an LLC in 2001.
Over the years, the land base has increased to 1,060 acres (900 tillable) with 350 milk cows — all registered Holsteins — that are milked three times a day.
In addition to Doug, Joni and son Derek (a UW-Madison farm short course graduate), there are five other full -time employees. Daughter Chelsea, a UW-Madison dairy science graduate, is a farm loan officer at BMO Harris Bank in Sauk City but still does all the cattle registration with Holstein USA.
Visitors at the breakfast ate well; enjoyed the Culver's strawberry and chocolate fudge sundaes; saw cows and machinery close-up; viewed a group of exhibits including a display of the history of the former Badger Ordinance Works on the Sauk Prairie by the Badger History Group; and maybe equally important, got to see and talk with friends and neighbors.
Did you know that June dairy breakfasts on the farm go back to 1970 in Jefferson County when the Clever Clovers 4-H Club was looking for a dairy promotion for a contest? The idea of inviting a few city folks from nearby Fort Atkinson to a breakfast on the farm took hold, and Craig and Laura Beane and their children, Tom and Marcia, offered their Holwis Farm as a site.
The Fort Atkinson Chamber of Commerce sent invitations "to visit a dairy farm and have a free breakfast ... limited to the first 100 people that call."
The event was a booming success as 155 people actually came and were fed scrambled eggs, Jones Farm sausage, Tuesday morning cake — Laura Beane's specialty — milk and strawberry sundaes.
The success of the farm-city gathering led to a second year with the Beanes again as hosts. The ADA of Wisconsin sent out invitations, DATCP brought a huge frying pan and Lt. Gov. Marty Schreiber attended.
The idea spread, and June Dairy Breakfasts on the Farm continue as a popular event (over 60 this year listed on dairydaysofsummer.com).
As for June Dairy Month, it started in 1937, not as a dairy farmer event, but as a drugstore promotion to sell more products by giving away free ice cream cones.
The first breakfast I attended was in 1979 at the Maurice and Gerry Cooper farm in Token Creek — Dane County's first breakfast (Their 36th event is at the Jerome Zander farm, Mt. Horeb, on June 14). I still attend two or three each year and always enjoy.
If you have never attended one, you should. See farming as it is today — you will be surprised, learn a lot, eat well and have fun. Why not?