September 5, 2017 at 3:32 p.m.
Seven children for seven farms
Joe was celebrating his 80th birthday, which was earlier in the week, June 12. Lou and Joe were celebrating 56-years of marriage, June 14, and it was Father's Day. Although it wasn't pointed out or even mentioned, Joe and Lou could have also celebrated something else that's pretty rare in any part of dairy country: they helped start seven children, six boys and one girl in the dairy industry. All of whom have been calling dairy farming their career for better than 20 years in either Stearns or Todd County.
Their oldest child, Barb (Middendorf) Massman, and their six sons, Ron, Paul, Glen, Kurt, Keith and Jeff are all dairy farmers. They put their stakes down in central Minnesota, ranging from Browerville south through Long Prairie to Sauk Centre, and then east to Melrose where the Middendorfs started out in 1956.
Their youngest daughter, Lisa (Middendorf) Goerdt, is the lone child that escaped the farming life.
Even though their seven children are all at least two decades into their dairy careers, Joe and Lou, who was a Leukam from near Meire Grove, remember quite vividly how the children started out.
When their children got to their late teenage years, they each expressed a desire to farm. So Joe and Lou starting looking for farms for the children to begin dairying. Joe and Lou said they hoped each site would have at least a decent building to start with.
"We looked for something that would make a good dairy farm," Lou said. "Some places it was hard to find something with at least one good building."
If the farm wasn't equipped with a dairy barn, they helped their children build one.
Their first farm was an old turkey site owned by Hal Boyack near Sauk Centre. The Middendorfs changed the building into a dairy barn and started milking. A couple of the children would milk at the Sauk Centre site, while the rest of the family took care of the home farm north of Melrose. A short time later, they bought a farm owned by Paul Jennissen between Sauk Centre and Long Prairie and the Middendorfs were running back and forth to three farms doing chores. Eventually, Ron got married and bought the Melrose farm. Joe and Lou and the rest of the children packed up and moved to Sauk Centre and they operated the other two. Shortly after that, Paul, then Glen, Kurt, Keith, Jeff and Barb each headed out to their own farms. From 1976 to 1990 all seven found places to call their own, with Jeff taking over the farm in Sauk Centre.
"I remember telling Joe, I'm tired of buying farms," Lou said. 'He said,' "We are done now."
To assist the children in their dairy endeavors, Joe and Lou gave them a herd of cows and some equipment if they lived further away. Otherwise, they shared equipment with their parents.
Joe and Lou didn't try to dictate to the children how to operate their farms, but Joe did emphasize the importance of the cows.
"His favorite thing years ago was the cows. He'd much rather get off the tractors and milk the cows," Lou said.
"Work hard and take care of the cows and you are probably going to make it," Keith remembered his dad saying.
The words sunk in with the kids. Jeff, Keith, Paul and Ron were in the annual list of Minnesota's top 100 dairy farmers for low somatic cell count.
Glen said he remembers a similar message from his dad.
"The cows come first. Take care of them. They are the most important part of the farm," Glen, who has been dairying for 28 years, said.
Those words resonated with all the children as the seven have combined to total around 175 years of milking cows.
"It makes you feel good. You hear about a lot of farms that are struggling," Lou said.
Four grandchildren, Ron's son, Cory, Glen's son's, Nathan and Daniel, and Paul's son, Cody, are also dairying or have expressed interest in the dairy life.
They will have their parents to help them, much the same way Barb, Ron, Paul, Glen, Kurt, Keith and Jeff had Joe and Lou to help them.[[In-content Ad]]
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