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Another year, and a lot more interesting experiences

Dec. 24, 2013 | 0 comments

Year 2013 has come and is within a few days of being gone and as always I've seen and been involved in so many interesting experiences and met a host of fascinating people. Look back with me and relive a few bits of 2013.

I still can't believe it

The growth of that family-owned creamery that began making butter over a century ago in a small plant located amidst the rich farmland just outside Greenwood in Clark County owned by the Wuethrich family is now the nation 's largest family-owned butter processor (60,000 pounds of butter per hour).

When I wrote about the huge Grassland Dairy Products operation back in August I got a lot of questions:

· One was "where is Greenwood? The answer is in the middle of Clark County, Wisconsin's #1 dairy county that is located just a bit west of the center of Wisconsin.

· A second question was "why haven't I heard of Grassland Dairy Products? Although well known within the dairy processing industry, Grassland is family-owned by Dallas Wuethrich and sons Trevor and Tayt. They have not sought publicity , rather quietly go about their business.

Since 1904, the family has made butter and gradually grown over the years with the biggest jump made in 2011 with the investment of $100 million to better serve their market, which is split about equally between retail butter, food service and ingredients. The company employs 450 people in Greenwood processing milk from some 850 dairy farms and has plants in Utah, Nebraska and Zachow, WI.

Yes indeed, Grassland Dairy Products has made butter for 104 years, is still located amidst that rich farmland near Greenwood and still owned by the Wuethrich family.

How does he do it?

It was hard for me to believe what I saw at Tom Brunner's farm near Verona — Dozens of hand-built, one-fifth scale model farm toys, many that actually worked, all made by Brunner.

Most were of older horse-drawn or early model farm equipment common in the 40s and 50s — The Allis Chalmers, Model 60, All Crop Harvester of the 1950s is perfect in detail. I know because I pulled one over many acres behind a Ferguson tractor combining oats as a youth.

Several big trailers house this astounding collection of hand-built scale model toys that Brunner has been making (when not working at Ellis Manufacturing at Verona) for 26 years.

Although Brunner has sold a few pieces, he does not do it as a commercial venture, rather for the love of creating complex farm toys and making farm history visible to those who did not live in that era.

What is a milk strainer?

That was the question that made me realize how long ago it was that I milked cows. It was asked by a young dairyman who grew up milking cows in a parlor and had never seen a traditional milk can and its accompanying strainer that had been the way milk was moved from cow to processing plant for decades.

Bulk milk hauling was statewide by the mid-1960s and milk cans faded away as processors converted to modern milk handling. That alone upgraded milk quality because of better cooling as water tanks left the scene and better filtering as the small strainer pads were soon gone, replaced by high tech filters.

There are still milk cans and strainers used on some Amish farms but most are now seen only at antique shops and museums.

The issue that never dies

Ever since pasteurization was invented 150 years ago and was soon required in some cities before milk could be sold, a small minority of consumers have fought for the right to drink raw milk.

Yes, many farm kids grow up drinking milk direct from the cow and according to some doctors,"build an immunity, over the years, to disease organisms that might be in the milk." Never the less, some folks want raw milk and in 2013 the "battle" heated up across America's Dairyland and will apparently go on and on and on and on.

The robots are here

2013 saw a number of major installations of robotic milking systems across the state as farmers seek a way to expand their dairy without hiring a big labor force and becoming full-time people managers. The use of robots is now beyond the experimental stage that began in 2000 with the installation of two robots at Knigge dairy in Omro to now where there are eight units at the Leedle farm in Lake Geneva.

The use of robotic milking no longer centers on will they work? They do. Rather it's a management and financial decision. I suspect that 20 years from now, the majority of dairy farms will be using parlors (the mega dairies) or robots (the smaller operations).

The result? Lots of smaller dairies will still be in business.

The saddest feeling

It was a big day at the UW-Madison College of Ag back in March as thousands of guests flocked to participate in the dedication of the remodeled dairy barn and attend the biannual Badger Dairy Club dairy sale.

Amidst all the activity I noted a young women crouched next to the head of a resting Holstein in the new barn.

Are you OK, I asked?

"Yes," she said. "I just love animals and heard about this barn dedication on the radio and came over. I know absolutely nothing about cows but I love them."

Two hours later, the woman was in the Stock Pavilion where the sale was being held — again crouched by a resting heifer hugging its head. I don't know her name or anything about her, but it seemed so sad.

For the first time

The 29th Iowa County Dairy Breakfast on the Farm, as usual, drew a big crowd but was most certainly a unique event. This year the host dairy farmers Dennis and Elaine Schaaf, were milking, not dairy cows, but 240 dairy goats.

For many of the breakfast eaters this was now doubt the first time they'd been close to a dairy goat thus making for a real learning experience.

"Why not goats," asked Mary Dunn, chair of the Iowa county dairy promotion committee? "Wisconsin has 45,000 dairy goats, more than any other state."

Greek yogurt arrives in Wisconsin

Wisconsin eaters have enjoyed Greek yogurt for some time but until this year no one in Wisconsin made it. That is, until the Buholzer family of Monroe invested a good bit of money in their Klondike Cheese factory and , began producing that popular product this summer. The Buholzers are a hard-working, cheesemaking family who move fast and true when they see opportunity.

These are just a few or the new and unusual that I saw in Wisconsin agriculture in 2013.

Happy New Year!

John F. Oncken is owner of Oncken Communications, a Madison-based agricultural information and consulting company. He can be reached at 608-222-0624 or e-mail him at jfodairy@chorus.net.

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