September 5, 2017 at 3:32 p.m.
Since March 18, 2011, Greg and Audrey, son Aaron, his wife, Jessica and their children, Faith (5), Aiden (4) and Lilly (19 months), and son Isaac have been dairying together in a new 150-cow freestall and parlor facility. It truly is a family operation, as Lilly swings happily in the parlor while Jessica milks, and Faith and Aiden follow Greg, Aaron and Isaac around, helping with chores.
It's a dream come true, albeit not one any of them saw coming.
Greg and Audrey began dairying in the late 1970s two miles north of Brooten. They raised five children - Joe, Amy, Aaron, Mary and Isaac - on the farm and now have nine grandchildren.
"I always wanted to be in something like this but I didn't know if I would make it this long. Sometimes it's hard to believe it's done because it was such a long process," Greg said of the new facility.
The new dairy sits on land Aaron and Jessica purchased in 2006 located just across the Pope County line. The freestall barn itself is a 102- by 208-foot structure built by oldest son, Joe, who owns and operates Radermacher Construction. Attached to it is a double-8 parabone parlor.
The future of Radermacher Dairy is much brighter today than it was 15 years ago, when Greg and Audrey were uncertain any of their five children would come back to the farm.
"We (Audrey and I) sat down in '95 or '96 and said, 'What are we going to do?' At the time, we didn't think any of the kids were going to farm. Our house needed work and our barn needed work. We spent money and fixed up the house. We figured we'd dairy until Isaac was done with school and then get out," Greg said. "I didn't encourage the boys to farm. I farmed because I wanted to. Just because I'm doing it doesn't mean they have to."
In 2001, Aaron returned to the farm upon graduating from Ridgewater College. He took over the daily operations of the farm while Greg, in turn, worked off the farm for two years. At Greg's return in 2003, plans emerged to expand the dairy herd and update their existing facilities - a 38-cow stanchion barn built in 1922.
"The roof leaked and it was getting worn out," Greg said of the old barn. "We knew we didn't have many years left in it."
They built a 60- by 64-foot compost barn, allowing them to grow their herd to 110 cows by 2010 but continued milking in the old barn, which took around three hours and had them switching cows up to three times a milking.
"It just seemed we could hardly get the chores done in a day," Aaron said.
With the land Aaron and Jessica purchased in 2006, building a whole new dairy facility became the goal. In 2009, plans began to take shape as Aaron and Greg spent many days touring different facility types to find what would work best for them.
When they first drew out the plans for their new facility, they designed their dream, adding in freestalls, tunnel ventilation, a parlor and holding pen, space for an office and a bathroom. When it came time for building, however, a few of those features were cut.
"We drew up the barn as our dream barn. We got prices on that and cut from there," Aaron said. "We cut every corner we could cut."
Those cuts included the office space and bathroom, but what was built was a luxurious barn that emphasized cow comfort.
"Cow comfort was No. 1," Greg said of the new facility.
The barn is a four-row sand-bedded freestall barn. Tunnel ventilation with 16 52-inch fans lining the west end of the barn and drawing air in through the east wall creates ample ventilation. Three baffles force the air down to the cows' level.
"You just walk in and the cows are content," Aaron said.
"The cows didn't group on hot days. I haven't seen that in all my years of dairy farming," Greg said.
A bedded pack area along the south side of the barn provides a comfortable environment for transition cows and special needs animals.
To accommodate their mixed herd of Holsteins and Jerseys, the stalls in the north half of the barn are 48 inches wide while the stalls in the south half are 44 inches wide. Stalls on both sides of the barn measure 17 feet head to head.
The parlor is a double-8 parabone parlor, expandable to a double-12. This feature is what brought Jessica home to the farm full time.
Jessica, who didn't grow up on a farm, had a part-time off-the-farm job until April. Since then, she has not only learned the milking procedure but has taken over the role with the assistance of part-time help.
"Now she's our lead milker," Aaron said.
Jessica enjoys her new schedule of milking at 5 a.m. and 4:30 p.m., though admits it has been a hectic change.
"My goal in doing this (quitting my job to come home to the farm) was to be home with the kids, not realizing the challenge the schedule could be with three little ones ," she said.
She's not left behind by the rest of the family. Aaron manages the cow care on the farm as well as much of the feeding and scraping. Until earlier this summer, Greg was beside them every step of the way but back surgery in August has slowed him down for a short time. Once he recovers, Greg will take over feeding and fieldwork. Audrey, the former calf feeder who works off the farm part-time, assists Greg with the farm bookwork. She also feeds calves when needed.
Isaac now raises the heifers and the calves on the home farm and takes care of most of the fieldwork. While he hoped to one day join his brother and dad on the farm, he didn't plan to so soon. Isaac graduated from Ridgewater College this past spring and is taking an additional semester in spring 2012. He also worked a short time for Riverview Dairy before coming back to the farm to fill in for his dad before and after Greg's surgery.
Milking still takes around three hours, but the Radermachers now milk more cows. With the whole family back on the farm, other chores can be done simultaneously with milking. Also, much of what had been done by hand in the old facility can now be done with machinery.
"One thing I don't miss is the wheelbarrow," Aaron said. "It's been replaced by another skid loader." "I wish I could say we replaced the pitch fork too, but we have calves in the old barn so that means I'm cleaning pens by hand," Isaac said with a smirk.
The Radermacher family looks forward to their daily gatherings at their new facility. It provides a place for them to work together as a family while raising the next generation on the farm.
"Kids don't get bored on a farm," Jessica said.
"It's a good place to raise a family," Aaron said.
The Radermacher Family will be hosting an Open Barn on their dairy, Oct. 15 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., located two miles north on Stearns County 18 and one mile west on 280th Street. 25989 100th Ave, Brooten, Minn. Tours of the farm and dairy treats will be available.
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