When an expected 7,000 visitors head to Pagel's Ponderosa Dairy at N4893 County C on Father's Day, June 19, for Kewaunee County's 34th annual Breakfast on the Farm, thousands of them are likely to consume some of the up to 2,200 pounds of fresh cheese curds being made on the site that day.
Cheese curds are enjoying a popularity surge with sales of those made in Wisconsin jumping by 17 percent during the past year. Coincidentally, Pagel's Ponderosa opened a 2,500 square foot cheese plant next to its office on the farmstead where nearly 4,500 dairy cows are milked three times per day and where an additional 3,000 calves and heifers are raised.
Recent herd production averages of 86 pounds of milk per cow per day, components of 4.3 percent butterfat and 3.4 percent protein, and a 155,000 somatic cell count make the herd's milk ideal for producing cheese. A portion of Jersey breed genetics in the herd account for the relatively high component averages.
Those numbers are a culmination of 70 years of family continuity and achievement, which started in 1946 when Carl and Garnet Pagel purchased a farm of 80 acres that had 8 milking cows and a few hogs and chickens. By 1978, the numbers had increased to 380 crop acres and 65 cows.
After John T. Pagel, the youngest of seven children, had taken over ownership and management of the farm in 1980, a major fire in 1985 in which 48 head of cattle were lost prompted a rebuilding to accommodate 100 milking cows. Cow numbers grew to 450 by 1995 and then to 1,500 that were milked in a double 20 parlor in the year 2000, when Pagel's Ponderosa previously hosted the county's breakfast on the farm.
With other family members joining the operation as the years passed, specialized management roles were in place by 2008, leading to another major expansion that included the installation in 2009 of a 72 place rotary milking parlor that can handle about 525 cows per hour. The milking herd has grown to 5,000 head of Holsteins with some Jersey crosses, 7,530 owned and rented acres are cropped, and full time employment exists for 110 people.
Based on the idea of 'From Farm to Table,' which Pagel has rephrased as 'From the Cow to the Countertop,' a retail market has been established for a portion of the milk produced on the farm with the purchase of two area businesses and the construction of the on-farm cheese plant during the past two years. Flavors for several cheeses carrying the Ponderosa Dairy Products label were developed in a research project with the Center for Dairy Research at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
The sales outlets for those cheeses include Ron's Wisconsin Cheese in Luxemburg and the Cannery Public Market in downtown Green Bay — both of which are auxiliary businesses owned by Pagel's Ponderosa. Various activities and events on the farm draw about 7,000 visitors per year — a number that could be matched by the Father's Day breakfast crowd.
Pagel's Ponderosa is also a member of the recently formed Peninsula Pride Farms group. With a total of 32,000 cows and 57,000 crop acres, it includes 40 dairy farms in Kewaunee County and neighboring southern Door County which are striving to address the groundwater quality problems in the area by emphasizing proper manure application practices.
Breakfast day activities
Breakfast on the farm activities will begin at 7 a.m. with a Catholic Mass featuring polka music. Serving of the dairy product rich breakfast will follow until noon. Prices are $6 for age 12 and up and $3 for ages 4 to 12.
The breakfast menu, based on the an omelet proclaimed to be 'the largest you have ever seen,' will include several varieties of cheese, samples of yogurt, fresh rolls and butter, a choice of milk flavors, ice cream cones, strawberry sundaes, pizza, deep-fried mozzarella sticks and cheese curds — the latter being made in the cheese plant on the farm earlier in the day.
Thanks for the cheese
Cheese terminology is carried over to the recognition of well over 100 sponsors for the county's breakfast on the farm. Based on the level of support, those sponsors are listed under group titles of Edam Elite, Parmesan Platinum, Gouda Gold, Swiss Silver and Brie Bronze.
Those sponsorships support the related activities during the breakfast on the farm event such as farm tours that will enable attendees to see cows being milked in the rotary parlor and the cheese plant in operation, to visit the petting zoo, to enjoy entertainment, to listen to the heartbeat of dairy calves and to check out the antique tractor display.
Anyone seeking more details about the Father's Day breakfast can go on the www.dairypromo.com website. It is sponsored by the Kewaunee County Dairy Promotion committee that, as of early June, was still accepting volunteer helpers for the June 19 activity.