Feltz Family Farms and Dairy Store features unique milking robots and retail space
When Ken Feltz's children came back home from going to college a few years ago, he said it was time for a change of scenery on the farm.
One of Feltz's sons, Jake, had an interest in computers and robotics when he came back to the family dairy farm. From there, the Stevens Point family built a new barn to house two robots, costing $250,000 each. While expensive, Feltz said once it's paid for, the investment has saved him a lot of money on labor costs. He decided to install two more robots last year, retrofitted to their original double-12 parallel parlor.
"It enabled us to add X more cows without adding any additional labor. ... The cows do better. There's less stress on the cows," Feltz said. "My son takes care of them – he understands all the computer stuff."
The Feltz Family Farm is one of three Wisconsin dairy farm families opening their doors for an evening of conversation, tours and ice cream as part of the 2020 ACE On-the-Farm Twilight Meetings to be held August 25, 26, and 27, 2020, in Darlington, Stevens Point, and Eden, Wis. (see sidebar).
Those visiting the retail store can see the robotic milkers while inside shopping. The store and robotic barn are part of the same building, separated only by glass windows that allow a full view of the 110 cows milked by computers. Feltz said that not only are cows made more comfortable when milked by non-humans, they also produce more milk – between 3 and 4 pounds more per cow.
The Feltz retail store even sells some products made entirely or partially from the farm's own products. They raise black Angus beef steers on the farm, of which cuts are then sold in the store, and sometimes by the entire animal. They also sell soap, candles, cheese curds and some cheeses made out of Feltz dairy products. Feltz said the store has also begun selling homemade pizzas topped with cheese made from their milk.
"The store in general is up (in sales) quite a bit from last year," Feltz said. "It's gotten much busier. We started making our own pizzas, and the sales have been a big part of business too."
Additionally, the store also sells locally-sourced cheese, milk, ice cream, eggs, meat, chocolates and other products. Feltz said back in March when the pandemic hit, his store ran out of meat, milk and eggs within a week. He also said that while he was able to get his Angus steers into a processor, he was unable to bring in extra to make up for a dramatic increase in demand.
The farm has also served as the site for many school and family tours, although this year's pandemic has prevented those tours from continuing. The family hosts tours for calf births as well as fall activities, like a pick-your-own pumpkin patch, bale and corn mazes, hay rides and a free petting zoo. Feltz said they even ran out of pumpkins in the middle of October last year and had to buy wholesale and resell them. While there won't be any buses full of kids this fall, families are still welcome.
Feltz said his family feels like a part of the community now because of a positive response to what they've been doing on the farm. He said they maintain an "open door policy" where anyone can ask questions about why they do things a certain way. He also said he looks forward to showing people how things are done on a dairy farm.
"There's been a movement in the last several years of back-to-basics, farm-to-table, all that kind of stuff. People can see right where it happens," Feltz said. "The response from our community to our stores has been very favorable."
The Feltz Farm will be open to the public for ACE Twilight Meeting at 6 pm on Aug. 26 with Professional Dairy Producers of Wisconsin, Wisconsin Counties Association and Wisconsin Towns Association. Admission is free and includes a farm tour and will open up discussions on rural issues among the general public, conservationists, educators and local leaders, including elected officials. Register to attend here.