February 1, 2021 at 1:27 a.m.
Family: My late husband, Keith Berndt, and I have three adult sons – Heath, Levi and Calvin. Heath and his wife, Jennifer, have three children – Lindsay May, 13, Alexandria, 3, and George, 2. In 2016, I married Eli Paral.
Tell us about your farm. Dairy Queen’s Farms, also known as Berndt’s Family Farm, is a fifth-generation dairy farm. I farm with my sons and my second husband, Eli, and daughter-in-law. The farm has been in Keith’s family for 101 years. When Keith and I took over in 1983, we were milking 74 cows in a tiestall barn. We moved into the freestall barn in December 1999. We’ve added onto the farm three times, and now we milk 650 cows and farm 650 acres with help from eight full-time employees. My sons were 23, 18 and 8 when their dad passed away in 2009 at the age of 49 from a brain aneurysm. My oldest son and his wife were farming with us, and we decided to keep the farm going. We were milking 250 cows at the time and it was hard without Keith by my side. It was a process, and I took it day by day, step by step, just trying to breathe. Along the journey, God placed so many helpful people in my path. I came to the farm when I was 18 years old after marrying Keith, and I’ve been here almost 40 years. Even though farming can be very challenging, we love what we do and have a strong love for the farm.
What is the busiest time of day for you? That depends on the day but probably mornings. That is when I organize my work for the day, answer emails and do bookwork. I am the financial “queen” and manage the financials. I am not a businesswoman, but I had to become one. I also help manage employees and do payroll and other human resources tasks. I stopped milking cows five years ago and now focus on the finances. I also like to seek advice from fellow farmers. These things only help the farm to be better.
When you get a spare moment what do you do? I sit in my chair in the living room with a cup of coffee and I pray. This is my moment of peace. We also have five draft horses that we like to show and take for rides. They are a rare breed of draft horse known as a Suffolk Punch. Two years ago, we were invited to show them at the Midwest Horse Fair in Madison. It was a cool experience. I never had a horse until I met Eli. Together, we’ve had the opportunity to do so many fun things. It just proves you’re never too old to try something new.
Tell us about your most memorable experience working on the farm. A memory that sticks out is from when Keith and I first started dating. I thought it would be so cool to see a calf born, but my first experience was not a great one. A first-calf heifer was freshening and had complications. There was a lot going on that I didn’t understand, so I ran out of the barn crying. I grew up in town and was pretty soft when I came to the farm. It’s ironic because this eventually became an area where I took responsibility on our farm. I watched and helped cows that were about to freshen and cows in labor until the calves were born.
What have you enjoyed most about dairy farming or your tie to the dairy industry? Working with my family and being close to the land and animals. I’ve always loved animals and working together on the farm as a family is great. It’s nice to see everybody pitching in and being on the same page.
How do you stay connected with others in the industry? Through Facebook and just seeing people in town.
Who is someone in the industry who has inspired you? Mildred McCaffrey. I’ve known her my whole life because my parents rented a house from her family when they were first married. Mildred was a hearty farm woman who liked to cook and bake and made delicious pies and hearty meals. She was an amazing woman with a great sense of humor, and she made farming sound so appealing.
If you could give a tour of your farm to a prominent woman in today’s society, who would it be? Oprah Winfrey. She has put a negative twist on farming, and I would love for someone like Oprah to dedicate a year of her life touring the country and spending a week on some of these farms – whether they be dairy, beef or crop farms. She could work with the family each day and see the good that farmers do on a regular basis. Novelty does not feed a nation. People like Oprah need to understand the value of our food and the work and effort we put into producing a quality product – the sweat, dedication and long suffering because we believe in what we do. The American farmer feeds the nation, and this would help her get a grasp on what it takes to feed this nation.
What is the best vacation you have ever taken? Last year, we took our youngest horse to Medford for a show. We stayed with Jason Julian, a dairy farmer who runs an organic, grass-fed operation. He and his family welcomed Eli and me into their home and shared their supper table with us. They are one of the kindest, most welcoming families. It was such a nice stay.
What are some words you like to live by? Keep it real – both on the dairy and in the way you live.
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