September 5, 2017 at 3:32 p.m.
The Wille family of Garnavillo, Iowa settled in for the first day of the Clayton County Fair on Thursday, Aug. 1.
Phil and Tonya Wille live on their organic, grass-based dairy farm with their four children: Lexi, 14 , TJ, 12, Jayce, 9 and Alyssa turned six on the last day of the fair on Aug. 4. Their farm is named Silver Acres Organic Dairy.
The Willes usually milk about 40 to 45 cows, but they currently are only milking about 26, which Phil said is as low as they get. They calve heavily in the fall.
They own and operate 200 acres, growing hay, grazing corn and pasturing their herd in the summer. In the winter months they feed balage and dry hay.
They switched to an organic operation in 2003; they said they didn't like using chemicals, and they liked the lifestyle as well as the better milk price.
Phil said he has lived on the farmstead his entire life; his parents purchased the farm in the early 1960s. Phil took over completely in 2000.
On Aug. 1, everyone was up by 6:30 and Phil was in the barn milking by 7 a.m. The kids started getting their show animals ready, and TJ and Jayce were washing their calves by 7:30.
At about 8 a.m. Lexi, TJ, Jayce and Alyssa, along with Lexi's friend Molly who had stayed overnight, were taking inventory of their show box to make sure they had what they needed for the fair.
Phil and the kids had spent part of the day before (Wednesday) at the fairgrounds getting the stalls ready and bedded. They had been able to finish up second crop hay on Tuesday, so they did not have to worry about that during the fair.
Phil finished up milking and had the barn scraped down by 8:30. Phil, Jayce and Alyssa finished up in the barn, while the older kids hooked up the trailer. Lexi and TJ loaded up the show box, and put shavings in the trailer.
They left home at 10 a.m., and stopped at Phil's brother's welding shop to quickly make a bracket for a fan.
Phil and the kids were at the fairgrounds by 10:30 a.m. Jayce explained that they had to have the animals checked by the vet when they got there, washed them up as needed and got them settled in the barn.
The kids can experience the fair with their friends as much as they want if they stop by about every hour to check on their animals, making sure they are clean and have water if they want it.
Neither Phil nor Tonya showed dairy when they were kids, but they spent a lot of time at the fair with friends and family.
Phil explained why they go through the extra work involved with showing dairy at the fair. "As a dad, I want to make sure our kids have this great opportunity that I missed out on."
Tonya added, "I like to see them show their animals at the fair because it shows their dedication to the farm and their animals."
Phil made sure the kids were settled in and he and Jayce went back home about 2 p.m. They hooked up the round baler and Phil made a few round bales off some buffer strips. At about 3:30, he started in on some weed-eating under electric fences.
Jayce rounded up the cows from the pasture and had them in the barn by about 4:30. Milking was finished by 6:30, and they cleaned up and headed back to the Clayton County Fairgrounds. After the entire family spent some time in the dairy barn their 4-H club was located in, they headed out to get something to eat, and Phil and Tonya hoped to watch Confederate Railroad from the grandstands.
In addition to her show animal, Lexi also brought photos and a wooden bench to the fair.
TJ and Lexi take turns milking with their dad every other night almost all of the time, but during fair week Phil managed the evening milking alone in addition to his usual solitary morning milking.
Jayce usually handles the calf chores, and the others help him out as needed. Alyssa helps her dad feed the youngest calves which are kept in the barn, helps to let the cows out of their tiestalls, and she helps move the calves around in the pastures.
At the busiest times of the year Lexi sometimes milks alone at night, and TJ does field work including driving a tractor and round baler.
The kids, especially the older two, usually help with morning chores in the summer, and they work with their show calves right away in the morning as well.
Tonya manages the Speede-Shop in Garnavillo. She usually puts in 50-plus hours a week at her job, and most days she opens the convenience store, leaving home by 5 a.m. On Aug. 1 she only worked for a few hours.
Usually the family sits down together to eat after the evening milking and chores are done, often about 8 or 8:30 p.m. "Sometimes it's late, but it's the best time for everyone to get together," Tonya said.
Tonya is a former 4-H leader who still volunteers her time. She stayed overnight at the fairgrounds to chaperone their oldest two children and others staying overnight in the dairy barns; Phil headed home with the younger two when they started to show signs of slowing down after their busy day.
Lexi said she is able to sleep like a rock when she stays overnight at the fairgrounds. "All the noises are music to my ears," she said.
Her mom, who unfortunately had to go to work at 4 a.m. the next day, doesn't always fare as well in trying to get some sleep between the kids, radio and cows bellering.
Lexi said her favorite thing about the fair is showing dairy and letting people see her heifer. TJ said he enjoys seeing how his calves do in the showring.
This is the first year the Willes have shown their own animals at the fair instead of showing animals owned by others.
Jayce said he likes to watch his dad in the tractor pull, and he is looking forward to showing dairy next year.
At the fair TJ earned a blue ribbon, standing second in the class with his 17-month-old heifer, Maddie and a blue ribbon with his 11-month-old calf, Amanda. Lexi earned a blue ribbon with her 5-month-old calf, Orange.
Maddie is owned by Kevin Harbaugh, who has also helped the Willes learn the ropes of showing dairy.
Both Jayce and Alyssa participated in the Kiddie Calf Show on Sunday. They prepared the calves they showed ahead of time, but those young calves only came to the fair for the Kidde Calf Show.[[In-content Ad]]
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