September 26, 2022 at 3:47 p.m.

Berning Acres opens doors to the public

Family combines education with fun through tourism
The Berning family – (front) Celia, (middle, from left) Aloysius, Natalie, Matt holding Rhett, (back) Willa and Louis – host farm tours and camps at their 400-cow dairy near Menominee, Illinois. PHOTO SUBMITTED
The Berning family – (front) Celia, (middle, from left) Aloysius, Natalie, Matt holding Rhett, (back) Willa and Louis – host farm tours and camps at their 400-cow dairy near Menominee, Illinois. PHOTO SUBMITTED

By Abby [email protected] | Comments: 0 | Leave a comment

MENOMINEE, Ill. – Sharing their passion for dairy farming through tourism events at their farm came naturally for Matt and Natalie Berning. The couple, along with their five children, have been hosting educational, on-farm events for adults and children for the past two years.
“Everybody wants an inside look or a behind the scenes look at how things are run or how things are made,” Natalie said. “That’s what we’re giving them when they come on a tour.”
Matt said adding the tourism events came easily to the family.
“We started out doing school tours a few years ago,” Matt said. “We felt like we had a good system for that, and it kind of led to this.”
Matt and Natalie milk 400 cows near Menomonie with the help of six employees and Matt’s parents, John and Ellen Berning. Cows are housed in a freestall barn and milked three times a day in a double-10 parallel parlor.
The tourism events include a summer camp for kids between the ages of 7 and 12, farm tours for adults and kids, and nights on the farm for adults. Each event is designed toward the anticipated age group and offers information about housing, feeding, nutrition and veterinary care on the farm.
Participants are first shown how the feed is mixed. They learn about the different ingredients that go into a total mixed ration and how Matt works with a nutritionist on a regular basis to make sure the cows are fed a balanced diet.
Then, they visit the calf barn, where the young calves are housed individually for the first two weeks. Then, calves are moved to group pens with two automatic calf feeders. People are allowed to feed a calf a bottle, which Natalie said lends itself to a lot of photo opportunities.
Next, they visit the freestall barn. People are always intrigued by the various ways cows are kept comfortable, Natalie said.
“We compare it to a bed and breakfast where they have food for the cows and clean water always available to them,” Natalie said. “People are so intrigued and just take it all in.”
The farm is also home to goats, pigs, chickens and sheep.
The two-day summer camps are from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Kids pack a lunch and spend the morning learning about how a modern dairy farm operates. As a mother of kids in the same age range of the kids attending camp, Natalie is comfortable with the logistics of the camp. She also drew on her decade-long experience as a former school teacher to make it a good experience for the participants.
“It’s been fun to blend teaching and parenting,” Natalie said. “I think what we’re doing is so relevant and it’s so important.”
Tours are led mainly by the farm’s calf manager, Taylor, while Natalie and her kids help as their schedules allow. Having a farm that is well taken care of and good employees has been key to the success of the tours so far, Natalie said.
“We are very fortunate to have wonderful help,” Natalie said. “I have heard so many times that Taylor gives a really nice tour, and you can tell she really likes her job. And, that’s amazing.”
The nights on the farm for adults were introduced by popular demand. Natalie had so many requests for the event from the parents who were sending their kids to day camp. There are two themes: cows, beer and cheese curds; and cows, wine and charcuterie.
“The nights on the farm have been the perfect blend of fun because we add in the food and the drinks,” Natalie said. “But, there’s so much information so it’s a stimulating night too for the brain and the mind.”
Matt was surprised to learn people had milking a cow on their bucket list.
“It kind of fuels the fire because people come and they’re excited and interested,” Matt said. “It kind of gives the person leading the tour energy.”
Matt and Natalie said it is important to educate people about a modern dairy farm. During tours, they discuss how technology has evolved on farms and the impact dairy farming has on the local economy.
“We try to point out the economics of decisions we make on our farm,” Matt said. “But, we are not just in it for the profitability.”
Natalie said she believes things have gone smoothly because they started with a scale they were comfortable with and have slowly grown to what they know they can handle.
“A farm lends itself to endless possibilities,” Natalie said. “But, it has to be something you’re passionate about. We like to entertain so it’s a lot of work, but it’s something that we naturally enjoy doing.”


You must login to comment.

Top Stories

Today's Edition



27 28 29 30 31 1 2
3 4 5 6 7 8 9
10 11 12 13 14 15 16
17 18 19 20 21 22 23
24 25 26 27 28 29 30

To Submit an Event Sign in first

Today's Events

No calendar events have been scheduled for today.