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The temperature was in the 80’s, the wind was blowing and the sun was bright — a perfect morning for the 2017 annual Dane County Breakfast on the Farm. And some 5600 eager eaters and curiosity-filled young, old and older people made their way to Blue Star Dairy in Middleton to eat their fill and take a look at one Wisconsin’s top dairy farms.

The food? Cheesy scrambled eggs, pancakes, sausage, yogurt, cheese, custard, milk and coffee and if you went away hungry it was your fault.

As always at Farm Dairy Breakfasts, the food line was long thus giving folks a bit of time to get acquainted and build their appetite. And for sure, the food is fresh being cooked on site just a few feet away from the serving line.

The Dane County Dairy Promotion Committee, sponsor of the event, owns a couple of the 5-foot skillets (frying pans) in which the eggs are scrambled (Green County used them two weeks ago at their breakfast).

I believe Bob Williams, longtime Fair Coordinator at the Wisconsin Ag Department (Bob died last November) came up with the idea of the big pans many years ago and had one made which he carried from event to event. At one time DATCP had several such pans and I’m not sure what has happened to them but several counties now use big skillets to prepare the scrambled eggs.

This was Dane county’s 39th annual Breakfast on the Farm event dating back to 1979 — I’ve attended about 20 of them as I recall and enjoyed every one.

Why did you come?

I always ask people; ‘What brought you to the breakfast?

The answers usually center on: I want my children (or grandchildren) to see a farm and the cows; I haven’t been on a farm for many years and wanted to see a modern dairy; It’s fun; I wouldn’t miss it; and I came for the food. Of course, those are the reasons the Breakfasts on the Farm have become so popular over the years ever since the first one was held in Jefferson county in 1970.

Star Dairy at Middleton was a great place to host the 2017 breakfast: Lots of parking in a harvested wheat or rye field across from the farmstead, a big lawn with trees, a huge machine shed for the eaters, plenty of exhibitor space and cattle barns nearby for easy viewing. It is also a three generation farm business and this is the second breakfast experience for the Meinholz family having hosted the 2002 breakfast at their DeForest dairy.

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Family and farm history

Several people at the breakfast asked me if I knew the history of the farm as it was so neat and looked like a modern farm should look. It happens that I do know the farm history having written about it years ago in a conversation with William and Dorothy Meinholz who started it all.

The beginning

In May 1946, the just-married William Meinholz and Dorothy Miller moved into the farmhouse with his parents until the house on the farm across the road was ready to live in. The newlyweds owned 18 heifers housed in a barn that had no electricity or stanchions. They had to borrow $500 to begin their farming life.

Over the years, six sons were born to William and Dorothy Meinholz and that dairy farm (where the breakfast was held) just north of Middleton in Dane county grew. The milking herd increased as did the crop acres. A second farm (near DeForest) was added in 1971 and now third generation grandchildren operate the third Blue Star Dairy Farm near Arlington.

Dorothy and William worked hard. By Christmas that first year, they were “electrified” and had installed a milking machine. In 1948 they put up one of the nation's first Harvestores. A few years later they installed a Double 8, Jamesway herring bone milking parlor after helping the company design it.

They bought one of the first Oliver 88 tractors (in 1948) that was “big for it’s day. (It’s still parked in the shed at the DeForest farm and used on farm wagon tours yet today.)

By 1958 the dairy herd was at 60 cows. They built a 60x180 foot loafing dairy barn-shed that burned down in 1960 (a full page in the newspaper told of the event). A double 10 Germania herringbone parlor was built in 1979 and later remodeled to a double 12 rapid exit.

A second farm

The addition of the DeForest farm in 1971 was a major move. “It had a parlor and we wouldn’t milk without one, Meinholz says. A new Germania Double 16 parlor was added in the mid 90’s along with new freestalls. The herd is now at 850.

Six sons

Over those same years, Willy and Dorothy were also raising children — six sons. Raymond, born in 1948 was a victim of spinal meningitis at 1 1/2 and required intensive care his entire 48 years of life. He was followed by Louie, Walter, Albert, Eugene and Arthur. (Albert and Eugene are employed off the farm and Walter died last year.)

Blue Star Dairy Farms was formed in 1976 as a family partnership between William and Dorothy and five of their sons and continues today between sons Art (and his wife Lori) who live on the original farm and his brother Louie (Joanne) and their sons Craig (Sherry) and Brian (Rhonda).

Blue Star Dairy Farms is a family farm that has been a’building ever since that young couple embarked on marriage and farming 71 years ago.

There is a widespread perception among some consumers (and farmers) that “small farms are good, big farms are bad.” It’s also often suggested that small farms are owned by “good families” and bigger farms are owned by “evil corporations.” Actually most of the nation’s dairy farms are owned by families — almost none are owned by outside corporations.

Breakfast-goers had a chance view the registered herd of Holstein cattle, free stall barns, heifer facilities, and the milking parlor. There was a big display for farm machinery ranging from old (antique) tractors to a huge track-type John Deere tractor and a 52-foot wide field cultivator.

They also did a lot of talking, asking and hopefully learning about how a modern family dairy farm operates. A couple from Madison were impressed with their visit and farm tour but the woman said she had a question: “How can a family manage and operate a business this large and so complicated — this is really amazing to me.”

How they do it

I offered the answer I’ve given before: “It’s a combination of experience and intelligence combined with the ability to be a good listener, a fast learner and a great love of farming. A successful farm does not just happen, it is made by the owners/operators working together.

The lady said, “I still don’t know how they do it but I’m happy they are here."

So am I.

John Oncken is owner of Oncken Communications. He can be reached at 608-222-0624, or email him at jfodairy2@gmail.com.

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