Manitowoc Dairy Breakfast extends tradition

Ray Mueller Correspondent
Now Media Group


When Russel and Karen Strutz, other members of their family, and the farm's employees host Manitowoc County's 2016 Breakfast on the Farm from 8 a.m. to noon on Sunday, June 12, they'll be engaged in a greatly expanded version of what's already an annual practice on the farm.

Since 2008, Strutz Farm Inc. has been inviting its neighbors to an evening featuring food, facility tours, and education about the practices on the now six generation dairy farm less than a mile off the shore of Lake Michigan in northeast Manitowoc County. That event is usually held on the 3rd Monday of August.

The invitation is extended to all neighbors within 1.5 miles of the original farmstead which dates to 1898 along Irish Road and the new facilities constructed since 1999. Residents who live adjacent to the fields up to 5 miles away from which crops are harvested are also invited, Russel Strutz told attendees at a media day for the breakfast sponsored by the Manitowoc County dairy promotion committee.

About one-third of the neighbors who are invited attend the evening event in August, Strutz noted. He said that one part of the entire operation or facility is highlighted each year on that special evening.

Larger Breakfast Crowd

Instead of having a few dozen visitors on one evening during the year, the Strutzes can expect to see up to 5,000 people during the breakfast on the morning of June 12, according to Roger Manke of the promotion committee. Costs for the tickets to be purchased on the site are $7 for adults and $4 for children age 5 to 10.

In addition to having a dairy laden breakfast menu consisting of a ham and cheese omelet, sausage, a variety of cheeses, strawberry yogurt, cinnamon bread and butter, donuts, ice cream, milk, and other beverages, attendees can hop on one of seven tram shuttles for a ride through the facilities, including the 400 by 202 foot free-stall which houses about 600 of the 1,200 dairy cows on the farm.

Breakfast attendees are encouraged to bring a camera to take a picture with one or more of the four calves born on the farm on a typical day, listen to music by the Jerry Krueger band, view animals at a petting zoo, watch children play in a Bouncy House, and meet the county dairy princess and Farm Bureau queen who will be crowned at 9:30 a.m.

Dairy Farm History

As the Strutz farm has undergone several expansions since 1995, the number of cows in the milking herd increased from the 120 head housed in a stanchion barn to 350 in a free-stall barn and then to 1,200 in two free-stall barns today. At any one time, about 1,050 cows are being milked three times per day in a double 18 parallel parlor which was expanded from the original double 12.

Strutz Farm Inc. was formed in 1980 by Russel's parents Leon and Marlene. Russel joined the operation as a partner in 1988. At age 77, Leon is still active on the farm in moving cattle, scraping manure, driving tractors, and helping out with other tasks. Until Russel and Karen's daughter Nicole took over the role in 2012, Marlene was the chief feeder of the calves on the farm.

The heifer calves are raised on the farm until they are five months old. Then about 80 percent of them — about 600 at any given time — are sent to custom raisers. Most go to Schneider Farms near Hilbert in neighboring Calumet County and some to Richard Messman at nearby Two Rivers.

Importance of Employees

While acknowledging the value of now six generations of family heritage on the farm, Russel Strutz emphasizes that 'our success depends on our employees.' In addition to Russel and Karen's three other children (Meghan, Ryan, and Cameron), the farm has 20 full-time and 5 part-time employees.

Strutz also notes that family connections also apply among the employees. He noted that the employees include and husband and wife along with a father and son.

The employees tend to the milking of the cows which produce an average of about 85 pounds of milk per day after consuming about 90 to 100 pounds per day of a totally mixed ration whose components are overseen by dairy nutritionist Steve Woodford of Nutrition Professionals.

The milk — about 90,000 pounds per day — is shipped to the Land O'Lakes cheese plant in Kiel. Strutz pointed out that the Strutz farm was a charter member of Lake to Lake Dairy, which was formed in the 1940s and operated independently until it became a member of the Minnesota-based Land O'Lakes cooperative.

Although much of the crop harvesting is handled by a custom operator, the farm's employees are also essential for operating the farm's 1,600 owned and rented tillable acres. Crops grown on them include 1,000 acres of corn, 350 acres of alfalfa, 175 acres of winter wheat, and 75 acres of winter rye or sorghum.

Public Relations Role

How the new structures for housing cattle, storing feed, and handling manure appeared to the public gradually gained Russel's attention and spurred him into action. 'It's different for people to see. And they start talking,' he said.

One incident which motivated Strutz occurred when a professional providing an on-farm service was interested in seeing other aspects of the operation. Strutz realized that many other people probably have similar curiosities and might want to learn more.

Accordingly, Strutz began a reach out or public relations effort in 2007, starting with an outline of the farm's 5-year plan in presentations to the town of Two Creeks board.

'I'd rather be on the offensive side than on the defensive side,' he said.

The on-farm picnic featuring brats as part of the meal began in 2008.

Strutz believes a turning point of developing a favorable view of the farm in the neighborhood came when those neighbors were able to see the clay lining of a then partially filled earthen manure lagoon which is one of three cells on the farm that can store 15 million gallons – the amount of manure generated by the dairy cows and heifers in about 11 months.

DNR Oversight

In addition to relations with the neighbors, Strutz Farm needs to comply with numerous Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources regulations to protect water quality. One element of that is the Nutrient Management Plan, which serves as a guide for manure application rates and which is in place for the farm's owned and rented acres along with another 885 acres for which the farm has agreement for manure application, Strutz explained.

During the media day tour, Strutz also highlighted a designed vegetative treatment grassy area. It is located between a feed storage concrete pad and five 210 foot long feed bunkers to collect, filter, and distribute rainwater which runs off the concrete at those facilities.

Although it doesn't pertain to protecting the environment as such, Strutz Farm is committed to separating sand which is used for bedding in the free-stalls from the manure and reusing it. This reduces truck trips by about 300 per year and limits the purchase of new sand to about 45 cubic yards per month compared to the 5,000 cubic yards per year that would be required without the sand separating practice.

Ancestry Crossroads

On the media day, Strutz and other members of the family handled a number of other questions. One for which no one had an answer is how a family of German ancestry decided to settle on a farm along Irish Road, which runs to the farm and Lake Michigan from Highway 42 seven miles north of Two Rivers.

Another dairy farm on Irish Road has named itself Irish Acres. On that farm, the family's surname strongly suggests an ancestry other than Irish or German.

At the corner of Highway 42 and Irish Road, the sponsoring dairy promotion committee has a sign directing attendees to the Strutz farm for parking on the breakfast morning.