People who attend the annual Waushara County dairy breakfast Sunday, June 29, will, of course, be able to enjoy a delicious meal featuring pancakes, ham, hash brown potatoes, cheese and milk.
But they will also have the opportunity to see one of Wisconsin's newest and most modern dairy farms in operation — Pine Breeze Dairy — which is part of the Breeze Dairy Group that owns and operates Lake Breeze Dairy in Fond du Lac County and has a proposed dairy, North Breeze in Taylor County, which is currently in the early planning stages.
Brad Gerrits, Pine Breeze operations manager, said the farm is home to 2,400 dairy cows and 30 full-time employees. "We're working very hard every day to produce the highest quality milk," he said.
"We started in July 2011 by leasing a 400-cow dairy farm, formerly known as Hope Acres Dairy, that had been owned by Brian and Ellen Handschke," Gerrits said. "Within two months, the barns were filled with cattle, and work to expand the facility got underway,"
One year later, after successfully obtaining all the required permits, Breeze Dairy Group purchased the farm. In August 2012, excavation began, and construction was underway by the middle of September.
"On Feb. 7, 2013, we milked the first cows in our brand new double 35 GEA parlor," Gerrits said. "Work on other buildings and facilities continued throughout the winter, and the major portion of construction was completed by the end of June 2013."
When constructing the new facilities, they had to work around some wetlands and other sensitive areas. Doing construction work during the winter months also brought some special challenges, according to Gerrits.
"Overall, with the team of people we have and the expertise gained from building Lake Breeze Dairy, this second project went a lot smoother than we expected," he said.
Facilities include five freestall barns in addition to the double-35 milking parlor. "Four of the barns house the lactating cows, and the fifth is for special-needs animals, including hospital cows, dry cows and springing heifers," Gerrits noted.
The original double-10 parlor remains in use for milking treated cows whose milk is unsalable.
The freestall barns at Pine Breeze dairy feature a unique tunnel ventilation system. "You'll see some barns with the big curtains on the sides, but here we have closed sides with curtains on one end and fans on the other to provide circulation for cooling," Gerrits explained.
Feed is stored in a 245,000-square-foot asphalt feed pad.
The farm encompasses 130 acres of owned land, with an additional 379 acres of rented land. "Mostly we contract with nearby farmers to grow forages for us, and crops are custom harvested," Gerrits said.
The 2,400 cows on site include approximately 2,000 currently being milked, along with 400 dry cows and close-up heifers.
The herd is milked three time each day. "We have teams of three milking technicians and one cow mover, with each team working an 8-hour shift," Gerrits said.
The daily per-cow average is 95 pounds of milk. "We ship out about four semi tankers of high quality milk each day, which goes to Agropur Cooperative in Weyauwega," he added.
All young stock is custom raised at another farm. "After two or three days, newborn calves leave the farm and return as heifers," he said.
Operating a farm of this size and scope requires dedication and commitment from all 30 full-time employees, Gerrits stressed.
As operations manager, he oversees all daily operations on the farm. "I'm also involved in contracting for forage, and making sure our nutrient management plan is followed is one of my top priorities," Gerrits remarked. "I make sure everything runs smoothly."
Several managers supervise various aspect of the operation. The milking technicians work under the direction of the herd manager. Other supervisors include a feed manager and a manager who's in charge of the calves and transition cows.
"We also have a barn manager who's responsible for securing the sand bedding and maintaining the buildings and a maintenance manager who's responsible for keeping all the equipment in working order," Gerrits said. "Of course, all these managers have teams of people working under them."
Those attending the breakfast at Pine Breeze Dairy will be able to view activity taking place in the milking parlor.
"We'll have a large tent set up where visitors can see a live feed from our parlor on a large screen TV," he said. "We'll also have representatives on hand from our equipment suppliers to help folks learn about the newest technology in dairying."
A tour bus also will transport visitors around the farm. "They'll be able to see the feeding center and drive through one of our barns. This will be an excellent opportunity for people to see many of the latest advances in dairy facilities and equipment."
The dairy breakfast runs from 7:30 a.m. to noon Sunday, June 29. The farm is located just north of Poy Sippi and east of State Highway 49 at W1776 Aspen Ave.
"Waushara County doesn't have many dairy operations that can hold a large event, so we're really happy to host this June Dairy Breakfast to give the public a good view of how we operate and some of the new developments in the dairy industry," Gerrits said.