February 13, 2022 at 2:29 a.m.
The couple was awarded the Speak Up for Ag Award by the Wisconsin Outstanding Young Farmers Program at their 68th annual awards ceremony Jan. 21 in Neenah. The Handels were awarded based on their various efforts to promote agriculture and be progressive young farmers. These efforts include their own brand of cheese and participating in a television commercial for Chipotle and a podcast.
When the Handels found out they were nominated for the award, Bryanna Handel said they were unsure whether or not to accept the nomination.
“We debated for a long time if we were worthy of this or if it was even worth it for us,” Handel said. “Then, we were told there were only five other people in the state nominated. It really is an honor.”
The couple was nominated by Handel’s former employees who have watched the couple’s farm progress through social media.
“Dylan and I started with 16 cows and a rented barn,” Handel said. “I feel like we’re in very good shape for going through what we’ve conquered.”
Since starting their dairy career in 2014, the couple has managed to purchase their own farm and grow their herd to 70 Jerseys, which are milked in a tiestall facility.
Their milk gets shipped to Meister Cheese in Muscoda, which is part of the Cows First program that provides cheese to Chipotle. This led to an opportunity to participate in a commercial for the restaurant chain, where Handel spoke about her belief in good animal husbandry.
“I am a firm believer that if you take care of the cows, the cows will take care of you,” Handel said in the commercial.
The couple has been promoting their own brand of mild cheddar cheese under the farm name B. Kurt Dairy since 2018. To make their own brand of cheese, the Handels ship one load of milk at a time to Cedar Grove Cheese in Plain, where they rent a vat and make cheese. In the first year of selling cheese, they moved 1,200 pounds; in 2019, they sold almost 3,000 pounds.
“Then 2020 happened and Cedar Grove was making cheese for people who had to dump milk,” Handel said. “I backed off because those people needed a market so we ended up selling about 1,200 pounds again that year.”
In an effort to increase sales, they held a farmers market on their property in 2021. The market hosted 13 vendors and a coffee truck.
“I didn’t know if it would be a flop or not, but then 500 people showed up,” Handel said. “I feel like we have a very good location being so close to the highway.”
Handel said she received positive feedback regarding the market.
“After we had the farmers market, there were some young female farmers who messaged me and said, ‘Thanks, you gave us hope because we honestly just keep hearing that you have to get bigger. Hearing your story was like a breath of fresh air.’”
Handel said she plans to hold the farmers market again this year in mid-August. She hopes to further increase cheese sales and introduce a new enterprise of cut flowers.
“I already have 200 bulbs of tulips and 100 daffodils planted,” Handel said. “I had already bought the seeds, so we’re doing it.”
Handel said that winning the award has renewed her ambition to continue promoting their farm.
“It just makes us continue to want to do the farmers market now that we know people actually enjoyed it, and you get some recognition for putting your farm out there,” Handel said.
On the farm, the Handels have been nothing short of progressive. They built their herd from sale barn cows to a barn full of cows that recently classified well.
“We just classified for the first time,” Handel said. “There were three cows that went as high as they could for classification, and I think we averaged 88 for the day. I guess it’s kind of nice to know what you did start with and now look around and say, ‘Wow, we have 25 Very Good cows.’”
Handel credits their breeder for helping their herd progress. Raising heifers in the facility they built in 2020 has helped grow the herd as well and improving the farm’s appearance.
“When you don’t have room for heifers, you end up putting them in make shift pens and they just don’t do well,” Handel said. “The heifer shed was much needed.”
As they reflected on the progress they have made on the farm, in the barn and for the community, the Handels said they are grateful for the recognition and for the weekend away to accept the award.
“It was nice to meet the other farmers,” Handel said. “They were all impressive. It was nice seeing other young farmers making progress.”
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