Handel family continues to grow farm, family and role in ag community

Gloria Hafemeister
Dylan and Bryanna Handel have strong roots in agriculture that they hope to pass on to their four children Elizabeth, Lyle, Clyde and Roy. The couple is expecting a fifth child this fall.

BARNEVELD – Dylan and Bryanna Handel have strong roots in agriculture. And in a short time they have not only have they expanded their herd, they've grown their land base and family.

Soon after they married in 2014, the couple decided to rent a barn and begin the gradual process of farming on their own.

They began with just 16 cows that Bryanna had accumulated since she was in high school. They gradually grew their herd while Dylan continued his off-farm job, and in 2016 they purchased a farm of their own near Barneveld. The farm included a 70-cow tie stall barn and 53 acres. Two year later they were able to purchase another 50 acres adjoining their farm.

In 2020 Dylan was able to quit his job to work full time on the family farm B. Kurt Dairy. Presently they milk 75 Jerseys and have 45 head of young stock along with a full line of machinery.

Dylan Handel holds his son, Clyde, while his wife, Bryanna, looks on with their other children, Lyle and Elizabeth.

Since 2018, their cows' milk has been used to produce 7000 lbs. of B. Kurt Dairy White Cheddar cheese, which they market the cheese via their Facebook page as well as by word of mouth. They have found that their customers appreciate knowing where the milk is produced and the creamy taste of the cheese due to the high components in their milk.

MORE: Dairying still being carried on shoulders of next generation

They also make a variety of cheese and sausage boxes that they sell at local craft fairs during the holiday season along with working with the Marshall FFA chapter and Barneveld Skills USA during their winter fruit sales. They donate 20% of all sales back to the chapters.

Their share of challenges

The couple has faced their share of challenges since starting in September 2014, only two months before farmers’ milk prices fell into a slump that lasted more than five years

“We got two good milk checks” before the price dropped, Handel said.

They also had heifers abort calves due to high levels of mycotoxins present in the in feed that was in the silo when they purchased their farm in 2016. They ended up selling 15 heifers that were a part of their plan to grow their herd.

Dylan and Bryanna have experimented with breeding their bottom 25% of the herd to beef and raising a few of them as feeders. This has helped bring in extra income via beef sales as well as from the sale of young beef cross calves. In addition to the financial boost, the strategy has helped them to week out bad genetics. 

They have also found a few farmers interested in raising jersey bulls who purchase the animals after weaning. The Handels breed all their Holsteins to Jersey bulls to help with production and components.

The B. Kurt Dairy in Barneveld.

Encouragement and advice

Throughout their years of farming, the couple has been appreciative of the encouragement and advice they have received from family and from other farming neighbors.

While Dylan’s off-farm income helped them get started in the business, they have found that once he was able to remain on the farm full-time the feed quality improved notably as he was available to harvest the crop in a timely manner. Dylan continues to concentrate primarily on the crops while Bryanna continues to focus on cows and youngstock.

Because he is able to dedicate himself full-time to the farm, the Dylan has been able to increase the feed inventory and experiment more with different cover crops such as rye for spring harvest. The bonus is that the rye also helps prevent soil erosion.

As stewards of the land, they practice regular soil sampling and maintain a nutrient management plan. Contour strips are used on cropland to avoid runoff and washouts and no-till planting is practiced on corn ground. In 2017, waterways were added to the farm to minimize flooding and erosion.

Promoting farming

While attending high school, Bryanna was very active in FFA, serving as Marshall FFA President for two years. After graduation, she went on to receive her state FFA degree along with her American Farmer Degree. She continues to organize many on-farm visits with youth along with picnics for the community to learn more about farming.

This year they hosted an on-farm farmers market that helped to educate area people about farming. The event also served as a platform to market their cheese and the products of other local producers.

Her advocacy for ag now extends into her children's school where they donate cheese and sausage as holiday gifts to teachers. The couple has four children – Elizabeth, Lyle, Clyde and Roy and they are expecting their fifth in September.

Bryanna also provides homemade comfort food to people in her neighborhood on a regular basis, picking five people every few months and providing them with a meal.

Bryanna Handel milks cows on her family farm in Barneveld. Under a deal with Chipotle Mexican Grill, they get a premium price for their milk from their 66 cows. Chipotle is using milk from Wisconsin dairy farmers who pledge to follow the company’s animal welfare rules.

Cow's First program

In 2019 they switched milk plants and are one of the small and midsize dairy farms supplying milk for the new Queso Blanco product for Chipotle. The Handel's meet the Newport Beach, California, company's "Food with Integrity" standards emphasizing the treatment of animals and the environment.

The farm already met Chipotle’s standards, “so it just made sense for us to go with program,” Bryanna Handel said.

During the last few years, the couple has been working with the company, giving tours, participating in news articles, podcast episodes and even a TV commercial, all with the goal of showing people the faces behind agriculture.

Opening the farm gate

On July 31 the family will be welcoming the public to their farm to educate the public about their products and the products produced by other local vendors. 

Bryanna says, “We will have B. Kurt Dairy white cheddar available at our on-farm farmers market along with fresh cheese curds and other varieties of cheese made from blends of our milk and that of other local dairy farmers."

Joining them will be 13 vendors, a petting zoo with chickens, a calf, goats and sheep.  A silent auction and yard games will also be part of the days' events.

On her Facebook page, Bryanna has been featuring the vendors as a wat to introduce them and their unique products to the public and encourage people to come to the event.

A rainbow over the Handel farm near Barneveld signifies the hope of new ventures as the Handel family markets their cheese made from their cows’ milk along with other locally grown or made products.

Vendors include Driftless Earth Roadside Flowers; Mounds View 4-H; Banigan Farms pasture raised meat; Burres Berry Patch produce and canned foods; Lucky Cow Coffee and Gelato; Katy Mauger homemade jam; Community Café fresh bread.

“We also have a lady making soap, garlic salts, farm-based T-shirts, woodworking out there, too. There will be goodie bags for the kids full of Wisconsin dairy farmer swag like coloring books, pins, pencils and Culver's kids’ meals coupons," she said.

The event will be held from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., at B. Kurt Dairy, 4239 Reeson Rd., Barneveld.