Dairying still being carried on shoulders of next generation
"John, thought you might be interested in this, being you did an article on them five years ago. They’re still living their dream adding kids, cows and acres, quite successfully I might add. Hopefully see you there. Thanks."
That’s a recent email I received from David Kurt, father of a young farm wife I wrote about five years ago. It included an invitation to the "Family Day at The Farm" hosted by Bryanna and Dylan Handel at their dairy farm, B Kurt Dairy, near Barneveld on Sunday, Aug. 22.
It seemed like an interesting – and a bit unusual – event, as most such gatherings are usually hosted by ag groups or large dairy farms. So, I went.
Going back five years
The story actually began five years ago with an email from a David Kurt of Cambridge, whom I didn’t know but who was a regular reader of this column.
"With all the press on dairy farmers quitting or having to get bigger, our daughter is proving them wrong," he wrote. "Bryanna has been buying Jersey heifers since she was 16 to show and breed for her future herd."
"Two and a half years ago, she married Dylan Handel and they rented a neighbor’s barn near Mt. Horeb to milk her 30 cows," the email continued. "They had a baby in August of 2015 and are expecting again in December of 2016. This summer they sold their farmette and bought 55 acres with a 70-stall barn near Barneveld."
Of course, I contacted Bryanna Handel, made plans to visit and here is her story.
Where the story began
"At about 13 years old, I began feeding calves at my grandparents' (Sylvin and Rosemary Kurt) dairy farm at Deerfield," Handel said. While in FFA, Bryanna showed pigs and steers at the county fair and in her junior year bought two Jersey show heifers which she raised at her parents' small "hobby" farm.
While in high school, she was active in FFA and was awarded the Wisconsin State Farmer and American Farmer degrees. She also began buying cows, and in the next few years, built her herd to 16 cows.
"I always wanted to milk cows," Handel said. "So, I attended the 2010-11 UW Farm and Industry Short Course to learn more about dairy management." After that, she worked as a herd manager at a 90-cow dairy near Columbus, and in 2012, she began work at Verona-based AgSource as a DHI tester in the official milk testing program. Along the way (at the Jefferson County Fair) she met Dylan Handel, a farm boy from Mt. Horeb.
Fulfilling a lifelong dream
In June 2014, Bryanna Kurt and Dylan Handel were married in a barn on the 15-acre farm they had bought near Mt. Horeb. "Bryanna really wanted to get married in the barn," Dylan Handel said. The young couple raised heifers on the small farmette while Bryanna continued working at AgSource and Dylan built fences for DRH Fencing in Verona.
In September 2014, Bryanna and Dylan began milking 16 cows in a rented barn near their home. "You’ll probably remember that two months later the milk price crashed," Bryanna said. "We only got two good milk checks, but we kept milking and we had a really good landlord."
After a year and a half, the dairy herd was up to 30 cows and the Handels left the rented barn, sold the 15-acre farm and moved to a 55-acre dairy farm near Barneveld, which they purchased from Doug and Marlene Reeson.
"It has a 68-cow tie-stall barn with a pipeline milking system and automatic takeoffs, which I like," Bryanna said.
How did this young couple buy cattle, machinery and a farm at in their mid-20s? "Our only loan is for the farm"” Bryanna said. "I worked several jobs while Dylan worked for Premier Co-op in Mt. Horeb and for the fencing company. And – maybe not like a lot of other young people – we saved our money."
What's in store for the future
"We plan to fill the barn with cows – it holds 68 head – which will allow Dylan to be full-time on the farm," Bryanna said. "He likes the field work and is good with farm and equipment repairs, and we plan to have the farm paid for in 15 years."
Last Sunday afternoon at the Day on the Farm gathering, I talked with Bryanna and Dylan. They told me about the past five years: how they added cows, enough to fill the 68-stanchion barn, bought an adjoining 50 acres and built a machine shed in 2019 and a calf barn in 2020. Dylan has been full-time on the farm for the past year and, maybe most importantly, they have added three children.
Bryanna estimated that there were some over 500 visitors at the B Kurt Dairy on Sunday, mostly eating, talking and visiting with a group of vendors which she had invited to attend. Bryanna and Dylan were kept busy answering questions and talking about their dairying experiences during the day. The event seemed to me as a combination of an old-time family reunion and a learning experience.
The Handels have kept their enthusiasm and ambition over the years. My hope is that all goes well and that their success continues. Dairying needs them!
Reach John F. Oncken at 608-837-7406, or e-mail him at email@example.com.