Celebrating 50 years of dairy farming

Brokers prepare to host Barron County Dairy Breakfast

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RICE LAKE, Wis. — For the second time in their farm’s history, the Broker family will be welcoming their friends and neighbors for the Barron County Dairy Breakfast June 1.

The Broker family — Fred and Kathy, their son, Mike, and his wife, Cindy, and their children, Daniel and Garrett — milks 180 cows on their farm near Rice Lake. 

They crop 375 acres of owned and rented land to raise feed and forage for their herd.

The decision to host was made by Daniel, the Brokers said.

“He heard they didn’t have a host and said we should do it because this was Grandpa’s 50th year farming,” Cindy said. “We hosted it in 2010, when Daniel was 2. Now, he’s 16, and Garrett is 12. With three generations here and all of the changes we’ve made, it seemed like a good time to host again.”

Hosting events like the dairy breakfast aligns with the family’s belief that sharing the story of their farm and the dairy industry is an important part of being a dairy farmer.

“It’s important for people to see where their food comes from,” Kathy said. “A lot of people don’t realize what goes into the food they buy in the grocery store.”

Mike and Cindy said they have witnessed through their sons how disconnected from the farm people are, even in rural northwest Wisconsin. Mike said their kids were the only ones in their respective grades who lived on a dairy farm.

“We have to be advocates for the dairy industry,” Cindy said. “We watch our kids growing up and realize their friends have no clue about farming. Even in second grade, Daniel loved farming and that is what he talked about, and the other kids didn’t understand what he was talking about.”

To share their story, the Brokers open their farm to visitors for tours and have worked with the local Boys and Girls Club to host a farm-to-table dinner.

This year is special to the Broker family as it marks 50 years of Fred’s dairying career. Throughout those years, he and his family have witnessed many changes, not only to their own farm but to the industry in general.

“I grew up on a dairy farm, but my parents sold the farm and bought a restaurant when I was 13,” Fred said. “I decided I’d rather work on a dairy farm than in the restaurant.”

Throughout his teenage years, Fred worked on dairy farms, solidifying his decision that dairy farming was his calling in life.

“In 1974, I walked into the financial institution with $10 in my pocket and said I wanted to dairy farm,” Fred said. “Sixty days later, I was milking 30 cows in a rented farm near Barron.”

Kathy gladly joined Fred on his dairy farming journey.

“I had always wanted to marry a farmer,” Kathy said.

The Brokers spent three years on the rented farm. During that time, Fred worked with one of his former employers to grow crops using the older farmer’s equipment.

In 1977, the Brokers purchased their current farm. Fred and Kathy began milking about 60 cows in a double-4 parlor. They maintained that herd size until 2002 when Mike decided to return to the farm after graduating from the University of Wisconsin-River Falls, where he met Cindy.

“I sent Mike to college hoping he’d change his mind about dairy farming,” Kathy said. “He came back more certain than ever that he wanted to farm.”

Cindy did not grow up on a farm but was immersed in agriculture through her father’s work as an agricultural teacher in Stevens Point. Her first entry into dairying came while working part time feeding calves at a farm near UWRF, and she said dairy farming is a way of life she has come to love.

The first of the changes to the farm included expanding the parlor to a double-6 and building a freestall barn to grow the herd to 130 cows. A year later, the first half of a heifer barn was built.

At that same time, the Brokers capitalized on their neighbor’s specialty, calf raising, and began sending their newborns to Busse’s Barron Acres.

“Raising calves takes a lot of time and labor,” Mike said. “We have Busse’s so close; we can see their farm from ours. We decided that was the best avenue, and we were able to turn our calf barn into a holding pen for the parlor.”

Calves return to the Broker farm at 5 months of age.

“Since 2002, we haven’t stopped working to improve,” Cindy said. “We just keep trying to do better for our farm, for our animals.”

In 2017, the Brokers expanded the freestall barn to create an area for transition cows and built the other half of the heifer shed. They also built their current swing-12 parlor to accommodate the growth of the milking herd.

Mike and Fred agreed that their current size is the best fit for them. Fred said they are at their maximum for cows, heifers and land. They employ one full-time person.

“This is pretty much our sweet spot; everything matches up,” Mike said. “We have enough land for all our feed. Our manure covers our land so we’re not buying tons of fertilizer.”

Hosting the upcoming breakfast has caused Fred to think over the changes and challenges of the past, and he has found one constant: his family’s dedication to their work.

“There is so much negativity about the dairy industry,” Fred said. “I want to show people: Here we are. Here are our cows. They are healthy and happy, and this is how we care for them every day. I want people to know what goes on, the amount of work and level of commitment we have to our cows and our farm.”

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