Salentines keep dairy all in the family
The croci are just poking up along the south wall of the century-old farmhouse on the farm where Josh Salentine recently moved with his family.
In a newer house on the farm, Josh's sister, Michelle, and her family are watching their lawn turn green with the spring rains.
The brother and sister and their families recently agreed to join in their farm's operations with their parents, Jim and Mary Salentine.
When Jim took over the farm from his parents in 1975, he was the only one of eight children who chose to continue operating the farm.
But a few years ago, when Jim and Mary announced they were thinking of retiring, both Josh and Michelle said they wanted to come into the business.
The solution was to form a three-way partnership and a limited liability company (LLC).
Josh and his wife, Jenny, and Michelle and her husband, Kevin Kasten, combined their assets and renamed the farm the Sal-Kast Dairy. Jim and Mary also keep an interest in the farm.
“People think it’s a corporation because we formed an LLC,” said Josh. “But it is still a family farm.”
The advantage of the LLC is that it provides tax advantages to its members and has much less paperwork and record keeping, according to Josh.
“For us, the operating agreement allows us to have different percentages of ownership for our three families.” said Josh. "It spells out what happens if there are any death or life-changing events and ensures that the farm keeps operating."
Today, the Sal-Kast Dairy, along County A in Luxemburg, serves as the center of family life for four generations of the Salentines that live on or near the farm.
"Farming is a business and lifestyle," says Josh. "If you don't treat it as a business, there will be no lifestyle."
The farm milks 160 cows and sends their milk to Belgioioso Cheese in Denmark.
Although the farm today has one full and one part-time employee, “everyone is cross-trained,” according to Josh.
Four of the five children – Josh and Jenny’s children, Megan, 12, and Caleb, 9, and Kevin and Michelle’s two sons –Tanner, 15, and Logan, 12 – all milk cows when needed and recently completed a tractor safety course.
“Molly helps, too,” says Jenny. “She holds the towel.”
The oldest member of the farm family is Nick, 94, the patriarch and the youngest is his great granddaughter, Molly, 5.
It was Nick's father, Ben Salentine, and his wife, Marie, who first purchased the farm in 1920. Their son, Nick, and his sister, Laverne, were born there. Nick began farming with his father when he was 14 and married Agnes Fiala from Kewaunee. The farm gradually grew from 80 acres to 200 acres, and they milked 25 cows while raising eight children.
Nick still travels around the farm in a Kubota they bought recently, and his great-grandchildren are very enthusiastic about his stories, including those about Ben who grew up on a farm about a mile down the road. The first Salentine arrived in the Luxemburg area about 1850.
“My father would not recognize farming today,” says Nick. “We used to pitch hay in the wagon by hand ... now there aren’t even any balers.”
Nick attended what was the township school for Luxemburg through eighth grade. He says he used to get a ride to school with the milkman or else he walked more than a mile into the village.
Jim, his youngest son, was in the last class of Luxemburg High School before it merged with Casco and worked in Green Bay for 11 years before he and Mary decided to return to the farm. Jim primarily handled growing the crops while Mary milked the cows twice a day for 42 years, while they raised their four children.
When they started thinking about retiring a few years ago, their two youngest daughters were working in the health care field in Green Bay and weren’t interested in farming. But both Josh and Michelle declared their interest in taking over the farm.
“Josh and I had the passion for farming and wanted to keep it going,” said Michelle.
So, Jim and Mary built a semi-retirement house on the farm, and Michelle and Kevin built a new home there, too. Nick lives in a converted schoolhouse a mile down the road, and Josh and Jenny moved into the original farmhouse this spring.
Today, Jim says that he feels fortunate that most of his family is close and that two of his children wanted to carry on the farming tradition.
Michelle's specialty is the calves from zero to four months.
“I’m the birthing mother,” she said.
One of the biggest decisions she and Josh have made is to send the heifers at five months to a farm in Kansas where they are “custom-raised.”
“They come pick them up in a bus like they are going to school,” said Josh. “And when they come back, they are well-trained and seven months pregnant.”
Josh focuses on milking cows and the financials. Jenny works two part-time jobs for the county and gets up for the 4 a.m. milking two days a week. Kevin, who works at a heating contracting business, does special projects.
The LLC has been set up to include their five children but puts special requirements on their joining the LLC, including finishing at least two years of college study, although it does not have to be agriculturally related.
Right now, the entire family is focused on finishing what Michelle calls “a wish list” of projects to host Breakfast on the Farm in 2020 – which will be the farm's centennial year.
“Grandpa is saying he is still going to be here," says Michelle.
For almost a century, the Salentine family has been playing a game with stones, she says.
Nick used to tease his children and grandchildren by pointing out stones in the soil as he was plowing and asking them to pick them up.
“No matter how many stones we picked out of the soil, he’d always see another one and say ‘you missed one,'” says Michelle. “Even when we thought we had gotten all the stones, there were always more next year.”
Today, Meghan and Molly say that their father plays the same game when he is plowing. There are still plenty of stones to pick out of the soil – even after almost a hundred years.
Josh, for one, says he hopes his children are still playing the stone game with the Salentines and Kastens of future generations.
This is the fourth article in the "After the Harvest" series, examining the successes and challenges faced by small and medium-sized farms in Kewaunee County today.
Karen Ebert Yancey can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, on Facebook at Kewaunee County Star-News Facebook, on Twitter @EbertYancey, or by calling 920-559-1235.