The Kessenich family – (front, from left) Byron and Pam; (back, from left) Dylan, Brandon and Dan – milks 500 cows in Arlington, Wis. They will host this year’s Columbia County Moo-Day Brunch Saturday, June 15.
The Kessenich family – (front, from left) Byron and Pam; (back, from left) Dylan, Brandon and Dan – milks 500 cows in Arlington, Wis. They will host this year’s Columbia County Moo-Day Brunch Saturday, June 15. PHOTO BY STACEY SMART

    ARLINGTON, Wis. – June Dairy Month is here, and, all over Wisconsin, breakfasts are being served up to honor the dairy industry and close the gap between rural and urban through on-farm education. Columbia County does it differently, serving brunch instead of breakfast.
    The county’s 42nd annual Moo-Day Brunch will take place Saturday, June 15 at Kessenich Dairy in Arlington, Wis. Planners are expecting a crowd of nearly 2,000 people, who will enjoy a dairy brunch consisting of Pizza Hut pizza, grilled cheese sandwiches, yogurt, cheese and Sassy Cow milk and ice cream sundaes.

    But, the Moo-Day Brunch is about more than having a good meal. Fun activities for all ages await, including farm tours, horse-drawn wagon rides, music, kids games, a petting zoo, balloon artists, antique tractors, specialty cheese sampling and more.
    The hosts of this year’s event are Dan and Pam Kessenich, who farm with their two sons, Brandon and Dylan, as well as Dan’s 85-year-old father, Byron. Dan takes care of feeding, including feeding calves on the afternoon and evening shift, while Pam feeds calves in the morning as well as in the afternoon if Dan is doing field work. Brandon is in charge of herd health and reproduction. Dylan cleans barns, tubes newborn calves, hauls manure and is also the farm mechanic. Byron helps clean barns and mows lawn.
    Pam, who grew up a city girl in nearby DeForest, Wis., said she wanted to live on a dairy farm and got her wish when she met Dan.
    The farming duo also has a daughter, Jami Abbe, who runs an in-home daycare. Jami’s husband, Tim, is a crop consultant for Nutrient Ag Services, and the Kessenichs are one of his clients. The couple has three children – Ryli, 8, Jaxon, 6, and Andi, 1. Dylan and his wife, Tiffany, an oral surgical assistant, have two children – Aubrey, 4, and McCoy, 2. Brandon and his fiancé, Bethany Swenson, a teacher, are getting married this November.

    This is the second time the Kessenichs have hosted the Moo-Day Brunch which was changed from a breakfast to a brunch in 1992. The farm was much smaller 25 years ago when the Kessenich family hosted the first time on a sweltering 97-degree day. Back then, they were milking about 90 cows. Now, Kessenich Dairy milks more than 500 Holsteins and farms 750 acres.
    “The educational aspect of this event is pretty important, even more so than in previous years,” Dan said. “There is more disconnect between city and farm these days, and social media doesn’t always help. There’s a lot of disinformation out there, and hopefully we can expel some of that.”
    A family farm running five and six generations deep, Kessenich Dairy has been at its current location for 50 years. Prior to that, Dan’s family farmed a few miles down the road in DeForest, Wis., where the Little Potato Company now stands. It was 1948 when Dan’s grandparents purchased that farm, and, in 1967, Dan’s father bought the current place where he milked 60 cows.
    From 1978-2007, the family milked 80 cows. Prior to 2007, Dan and Pam had thought about getting out of dairying but stayed on when their sons wanted to farm. In 2007, they began a major expansion, building the first half of a new freestall barn and increasing cow numbers to approximately 300. They remained milking in their old stanchion barn until January 2017 when they moved into their new double-12 parallel parlor and went to 500 cows shortly thereafter. They also completed an addition to their freestall barn in 2015, bringing the total length to 612 feet. The barn’s walls and doors are insulated, and the Kessenichs also installed bird netting on the roof, which Dan said works wonders for keeping out pesky birds.
    Across the field from Kessenich Dairy sits Kessenich Farms – a 600-Jersey-cow operation owned by Dan’s cousin, Jeff Kessenich. The close proximity works great for sharing equipment when doing field work.
    Cows at Kessenich Dairy are milked three times a day, and the farm’s rolling herd average is 28,863 pounds of milk, 1,059 pounds of butterfat and 859 pounds of protein. The somatic cell count is around 100,000, and the herd’s milk is shipped to Grande Cheese Company.
    Aiming for an average daily gain of 2 pounds per calf, calves are fed a gallon of colostrum at birth and receive a gallon of milk twice a day by 10 days of age along with a 25% protein calf starter. All calves are fed pasteurized milk, which comes from cows in the farm’s hospital pen. The farm does not use any milk replacer. After weaning, calves are moved from hutches to the remodeled stanchion barn.
    The Kessenichs have found genomic testing to be a herd management tool that improves efficiency during tough economic times. For the past year, the testing has helped them determine which heifers to keep and which heifers to cull.
    “It’s too expensive to feed them, and you can’t make money selling them,” Dan said. “Therefore, we maintain only the minimum amount of surplus or replacement heifers, deciding how many to keep each month. Zoetis helps us monitor our replacement heifer needs to ensure we have the right amount.”
    The Kessenichs use sexed semen to get heifers out of their best animals and also use beef semen on about half of the herd.
    “We’re money ahead doing it this way,” Dan said. “Beef semen is cheaper, and crossbred bull calves are worth twice as much money as dairy bull calves.”  
    Dan cited the following people as key contributors to the farm’s success – veterinarian Shane Schweppe from Waunakee Vet Service, who will be doing a demonstration at the Moo Day Brunch; nutritionist Mike Limmex from Furst-McNess; and inseminator Steve Otteson from Central Star, who also happens to be Dan’s brother-in-law.
      “They’re good people who really care about our success,” Dan said. “It’s not just a job to them. They’re progressive and want to see us do well. They come to the farm often and help us out a lot.”
    The Kessenich family is excited to host Columbia County’s Moo-Day Brunch once again, which will take place from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. The cost is $7 for adults and $4 for ages 4-10. Age 3 and under are free. Guests can receive $1 off with a donation of a non-perishable food item for the local food pantry. Kessenich Dairy is located at W6008 County Hwy. K, Arlington, WI 53911.