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Farmers take new normal in stride

John Oncken
Over the years Berryridge farm has grown from the single stanchion barn to a multiple freestall barn facility owned by three brothers.

The coronavirus “stay at home, keep your distance” campaign continues across the land but people are getting tired of it and some cities in some states are loosening the recommendations and people are again beginning to get out and about a bit. True, no one yet knows what the results might be: A second wave of the malady, a few isolated cases or hopefully nothing at all. 

Working at home does not appeal to everyone and doesn’t work in many companies. Many jobs must involve public contact (barbers, medical visits, operating a restaurant, sports competition) and the owners and participants know their days are numbered if they don’t get back to a public involved status.

There is one profession, however, were the stay at home edict is not a major dilemma, that of farming. In lieu of attending farm meetings that were not held, canceled dairy cattle shows, lack of June Dairy Breakfasts and the knowledge that farmers probably would not be inclined to welcome me as a drop-in visitor, I continued making phone calls to keep a handle on farming conditions.

About normal

Pam Selz-Pralle and husband Scott maintain an outstanding 450 cow dairy herd (including the current national milk production leader Aftershock 3918 with over 78,170 lb. milk), at Humbird in Clark county. 

Pam Selz-Pralle and Scott Pralle own  Selz-Pralle Dairy, at Humbird, She says, life is about normal at their dairy.

“Things are pretty much normal here,” Selz-Pralle says. “Of course, we’re not attending any dairy meetings (there aren’t any) and there are very few visitors and spring is the cropping season when we’d pretty much be home anyway."

What about your milk situation, did you need to cut production? “No, we were OK on milk. Our processor, Lynne Dairy must have a good market for their cheese, so we didn’t need to cut,” she summarized.

Had to cut

Rick Adams owner of Sugar Creek Dairy at Elkhorn, milks some 600 cows and he did have to make a 20 % cut in milk production. “We had to sell cows and that’s hard to do when you have a 32,000 pound herd average,” Rick says. “We also changed our dairy ration to cut back on production.

Rick Adams of Sugar Creek Dairy, Elkhorn, says it’s the first time he had to produce less milk. He’s spent a lifetime always producing better cattle and more milk.

“And that’s another first time thing for us - we’ve always looked to herd improvement, including milk production,” he added.

Adams admits he is not sure how the USDA payment program will affect his dairy. “I’m having our accountant look into it and get the details.”

Pretty normal

Jim Rickert, who with his brother Greg, their wives and sons milk over 1000 cows near Eldorado, says, “everything is pretty much normal here. We did cull some cows but no milk dumping. Of course, like every other dairy farm, the low milk price hurt us. It’s different with no meetings and few visitors.”

Jim Rickert of Rickert Bros. LLC at Eldorado says “Things are about normal here.”

As to the field work, Rickert says they’ve had some great May weather for planting and the corn is beginning to come up.  "We did have some alfalfa damage and will probably take a first crop on some acreage and plant corn on the ground for later feed," he said. 

Sold cows

Steve Endres of the 1000 cow, 100 year old Berryridge farm at Waunakee said “we had to sell 30 cows to cut our milk production to meet our cheese factory’s 20% production plan."

Berryridge cows were averaging over 100 pounds per day.

Like most dairies have done, Berryridge also changed to a less productive dairy ration. “We were at a 100 pound per cow milk average, now we’re down to 85 pounds but trying to go back up as the cutback changed. Once you go down it’s more difficult to get back up in production,” Steve says.  

Still milking

All in all. the dairy producers are still milking cows and working the land with more concerns being expended on milk cows than on the coronavirus threat. Perhaps that’s more because of the fact that most farmers do little traveling during the busy spring planting season and there are no meetings to attend this year anyway.

The result? Farming goes on pretty much as usual on at least some of the state’s dairy farms. Yes, there are farms where things are not so normal especially those with crushing debt combined with a shaky milk price. When all is said and done with the coronavirus pandemic, we’ll see fewer but bigger dairy operations with Wisconsin still standing as America’s Dairyland.

Looking out the window

Finally, as I look out the upstairs window near my computer, I am seeing the final construction of a swimming pool - the only one I know of anywhere in the Sun Prairie area other than the city aquatic center. There are very few outdoor swimming pools in short-season, summer Wisconsin. But this one - just beyond the lot line - and behind the family house which is home to Frank and Cassie and their five children, four girls and a boy, all the same age. 

Yes, quintuplets who will be 7 years old in August. They run fast, all different directions, all doing different things. I remember how Jan and I sometimes thought raising three children was a challenge, but five all the same age – wow!  I can see how a swimming pool will fit into this family's life. 

It’s also great to see the fivesome running and playing with no worries about coronavirus, milk prices, canceled events or mortgages. Just think of five kids going to the prom, playing sports, getting new clothes. There are some interesting times ahead for parents Frank and Cassie. 

John F. Oncken is owner of Oncken Communications,  He can be reached at 608-572-0747 or e-mail him at jfodairy2@gmail,com