September 5, 2017 at 3:32 p.m.
"It helps everyone be more versatile to go to sporting events or family events," Linda Keiffer said, especially about the robots they installed on their dairy.
Family has always been an important aspect of the farm for the Kieffers, who milk 350 cows on their dairy near Utica, Minn. And now with young kids back on the farm, it's more important than ever. It's part of the reason the Kieffers were chosen as the 2014 Winona County Farm Family of the Year.
"It was quite an honor to be chosen," Linda said.
Linda and Gary Kieffer are in the process of transitioning their farm to their son, Chad, and his wife, Kendra, along with their three children Brea, Ava and Bryson. Gary and Linda's daughter, Cortney, and her husband, Ross, who have a son, Dylan, work off the farm, but help on the weekends or whenever they are able.
The third generation farm was started by Gary's parents, Leon and Fern, when they purchased the site in 1952. Linda and Gary moved onto the farm when they were married in 1979. For the next few years, they worked to transition the farm and eventually buy it from Leon and Fern.
"Now we're in transition again. Chad's family is moving to the farm," Linda said.
Dairy farming was always what Gary and Linda knew they wanted to do with their life. They each grew up with the lifestyle.
"I grew up here and I liked it here," Gary said. "I like working with cows."
The couple milked their cows in a 51-cow tiestall barn. Family was always involved. While Chad and Cortney were growing up, they spent a lot of time in the barn, which now translates into happy memories. Chad remembers spending time with his grandpa. Linda recalled a time when one of their dry cows lost her ear tag and Cortney, at the age of 5, knew exactly which cow it was.
"We never really had to encourage them (to be involved) they just did it," Linda said.
Organizations such as 4-H and FFA also helped spark Chad and Cortney's interest in dairy, too.
"We met a lot of other people that way," Chad said. "We had fun showing cows and going to the state fair."
Now Chad's kids are getting to 4-H age.
"Now it's really fun to have the grandkids out on the farm, too" Linda said.
Throughout their career, as the interest in dairy expanded, so did the farm. In the late 1990s, the Kieffers built a freestall barn and converted their tiestall barn into a double-10 parallel parlor.
Chad graduated from the University of Wisconsin-River Falls in 2002 and started a full-time job as dairy nutritionist for Benson Farm Services in Lewiston, Minn. Although working full time, Chad still helped on the farm when he had free time.
Their next expansion came in 2010 when they added onto the freestall barn, in preparation for robotic milkers.
"We wouldn't have upgraded if Chad didn't want to farm," Linda said. "Before we put the robots in, we had to have a commitment from him."
In 2011, they added three robots to milk a portion of the herd while they milked the rest of the herd in the parlor. The next year, they finished the project and put in two more robots so they could stop using the parlor.
Although the Kieffers feel these first few years of having robots have been a big learning curve, they've been able to find a steady rhythm. Having another generation involved has also been a change.
"We're all on the same page. We know how we all work," Chad said about working together with family.
Linda said communication is key.
"We try to keep it simple," she said.
In addition to family, the Kieffers employ four full-time people.
"We rely on employees because we're not here 24/7," Chad said. "You have to have good people to do this and we have great employees."
The use of new dairy technology has afforded them opportunities that might not have been available had they continued with their parlor or built a new one.
"It allows Dad to do custom work, which he's been doing since 2012, and it allows me to continue work as a dairy nutritionist full time," Chad said. "It allows us to be more diversified."
But it also helps the Kieffers keep more of a focus on their family with a more flexible schedule. To them, that time is invaluable as they bring up their children and a possible fourth generation to take over the farm.
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