September 5, 2017 at 3:32 p.m.
For the last six years, David and Shirley Hulinsky and their four children, Greg (22), Tiffany (21), Nathan (19) and Alex (18), have been promoting the dairy industry and their way of life by volunteering their time and talents at the Minnesota State Fair's All-You-Can-Drink Milkstand and the Moo Booth.
"It's fun," David said, smiling. "The people are just amazing."
It's just one way the Todd County family mixes farming, family and fun into their everyday lives.
The Hulinskys milk 55 cows on the farm David's family moved to in 1970, when he was 10 years old. Coming from a ranching background in Nebraska, the Hulinskys didn't have any dairy experience, but that didn't stop them from trying their hand at it.
"They figured that's what people do in this area, so they started dairy farming," Shirley said.
That first year, David's parents, George and Maxine, milked 10 to 12 cows each in two separate buildings on the farm. The aging structures and labor intensity of the work prompted their decision to build a new 32-cow tiestall barn in 1971.
David joined his parents on the farm full time in 1980.
"It's all I wanted to do," David said. "I tried vo-tech school for six months before I quit and came back. I couldn't be gone from the cows, and 30 years later I'm still here."
With David back, the Hulinskys expanded their farm, adding 20 stalls to the barn, putting in a manure pit and expanding their herd to around 55 cows.
David and Shirley - who grew up on a similar sized dairy farm along the Todd-Stearns county line - were married on July 16, 1988. That same year, the farm was transferred into their names.
The Hulinskys have kept a consistent herd size throughout the years and are currently milking a mixed herd of 57 Holsteins, Jerseys, Brown Swiss and crossbreds. They have also raised their four children on the farm, incorporating them into all aspects as age allowed.
"At first we tried to have [the kids] out with us to keep an eye on them. Then, when they were school-age, they had to take half-hour turns helping us in the barn every night," Shirley said. "We started them with simple chores for half an hour and it grew from there."
While some were gone from the barn the moment their half hour was up, others took a liking to it.
"When Greg's half hour was up he never left," Shirley said.
This was a sign of what was to come. Greg came back to the farm full time in 2010, after graduating from Ridgewater College in Willmar, Minn.
"It's what I like to do - milk cows and drive tractor," Greg said.
Tiffany, who will start her second year studying ag business with an emphasis in dairy at Ridgewater this fall, and Alex, who will attend Alexandria Technical College for computer networking systems as a freshman this fall, are also home helping on the farm for the summer. Nathan, who will be a sophomore at the University of Minnesota-Morris studying economics, is currently studying abroad in Germany.
Dairy farming has been incorporated into nearly everything the family has done - from school and community activities to family vacations. All four kids have been active in 4-H and FFA, participating in dairy judging and showing cattle at county and state level. Non-dairy 4-H experiences included state-to-state exchange programs, cooking and demonstrations, as well as showing pigs and chickens.
"Mom was in 4-H, so she knew it was a good program," Tiffany said of why they got involved.
"It teaches you the basics of life; how to take care of things," Shirley said.
The kids were also involved in the Long Prairie-Grey Eagle High School marching band, and Tiffany spent five years promoting the dairy industry through the county dairy ambassador and princess program. Shirley serves as a township clerk, volunteers at their church, is on the Todd County ADA board and is the county dairy princess coordinator. She's also licensed in elementary education and continues to substitute teach.
As a family, the Hulinskys enjoy visiting other farms, riding 4-wheeler, motorcycle and dirt bike - a hobby that began with David as a young boy - and attending area parades.
"Greg has been in the Burtrum parade every year for the last 20 years," Shirley said. "It started with [him] driving a pedal tractor. Now he usually drives a tractor in the Burtrum Memorial Day Parade."
And, of course, they don't pass up opportunities to promote the dairy industry, such as at the Minnesota State Fair.
"It helps connect the public back to the farm," Shirley said.
Through the bustle of life, the Hulinsky family has continued to update their farm as time and finances allowed. Additions to the farm have included building a maternity and calf shed in 2004, adding a fourth silo to the farm, building onto the shop, and purchasing 40 acres of land in 2011. In 2007, they completed David's dream of updating the cow yard by cementing it out and putting in a catch pen. When Greg joined the family business, they purchased automatic take-off units for the dairy barn. Their next step will be another expansion as Greg takes over the farm, though no timeline has been set for that yet, they said.
There have been challenges on the farm - such as a strong storm that hit the farm in 1998, taking down nearly 100 trees but sparing the buildings - but nothing the family hasn't worked through together.
"A sense of humor has helped us all stick together," Shirley said.
So has keeping a good balance of farming, family and fun.