The Rosenhammer family – (front row, from left) Dennis, Mildred holding Morgan Scholtz and Becca holding Ava Fischer; (back row, from left) Greg, Johnny, Joe, John, Patty, Mary Grace and Kyle Fischer, and Laura and Chris Scholtz – are awarded the 2020 Brown County Farm Family of the Year.
The Rosenhammer family – (front row, from left) Dennis, Mildred holding Morgan Scholtz and Becca holding Ava Fischer; (back row, from left) Greg, Johnny, Joe, John, Patty, Mary Grace and Kyle Fischer, and Laura and Chris Scholtz – are awarded the 2020 Brown County Farm Family of the Year. PHOTO SUBMITTED

    SLEEPY EYE, Minn. – Having their dairy be a family farm is the No. 1 goal for the Rosenhammers.
    “When I started out, I just felt lucky I could be part of the farm,” John Rosenhammer said. “It was a privilege. It was always a goal of mine to have the kids involved.”

    Now three generations of Rosenhammers take on different roles at the 200-cow dairy near Sleepy Eye. This family aspect of their operation is what earned the Rosenhammers the 2020 Brown County Farm Family of the Year Award.
    After Dennis and Mildred Rosenhammer were married in 1959, they started the dairy with seven cows, three of which were a wedding present from Mildred’s dad.
    “She liked the cows and Dad liked the land so they kept growing it and growing it bit by bit,” John said. “And then the kids came along.”
    While John learned to love and appreciate bovines from working together with his family, he also grew his appreciation for dairy through 4-H and the friends or acquaintances he met because of it.
    “But as hard as I worked and tried, I only got to state fair two times,” John said of his 4-H dairy projects.  
    After graduating from South Dakota State University in 1982, John joined his parents on the farm while his brother, Greg, started farming after graduating from high school in 1993.
    Dennis and Mildred, now in their 80s, take care of the landscaping, lawn mowing, errand running and other odd jobs that need to be done. John focuses on the livestock while Greg manages the crops and fieldwork. John’s wife, Patty, works off the farm but fills in whenever she is needed on the dairy.
    John feels fortunate to have found a wife who also grew up on a dairy, and knew the ins and outs of the lifestyle.
    “I wanted to raise our children on the farm to teach them responsibility, values, morals and everything that goes with it,” John said. “I’ve always thought chores will teach them responsibility and everything else will follow.”
    The couple has five adult children – Joey; Laura and her husband, Chris Scholtz, along with their daughter, Morgan, 2; Mary Grace and her husband, Kyle Fischer, along with their daughter, Ava, 3, and another child expected in May; Rebecca; and Johnny.
    “It’s very fulfilling,” Laura said about farming with family. “I think it’s pretty awesome all five of us (siblings) live within 15 minutes of the farm.”
    After Laura worked for a dairy in southeast Minnesota for one year after graduating from the University of Minnesota in 2014, she returned home to the dairy for four years.
    “When she came back, it just gave my battery a boost,” John said. “I had an extra step in the morning knowing I didn’t have to do everything because she cares as much as I do.”
    For the past 1.5 years, Laura has had an off-farm job as a local ag lender; however, she is in charge of bookwork, tax preparation, bills, vaccines and record keeping for the dairy.
    “On Saturday mornings, I’m always here doing vaccines and printing off all the lists for the upcoming week,” Laura said. “I like the management side of it. I still get to make a lot of decisions, just not the everyday part of it anymore.”
    John hopes that can change.
    “I have the dream yet that somehow she can come back again full time,” he said.
    Laura’s siblings also take part in farm tasks when needed.     
    “When it’s time for harvest, some of us will take milking shifts, some will be in the combine or grain cart and someone else will be in the semi,” Laura said. “We can do it all family fun. That’s the most fulfilling – that we all want to still help.”  
    John agreed.
    “Everyone here has something they’re good at, which makes the whole ball bounce better,” he said. “It’s not flat in one spot.”
    While the family handles most of the farm chores, the Rosenhammers hire a few part-time employees, mostly high school students from the neighborhood, to help with evening milking.
    “I love working with all the neighbor kids, and I build good relationships with them,” John said.
     When it comes to farm work, John enjoys milking.
    “It’s like harvest,” he said. “That’s when you get the rewards for your labor.”
John also likes watching a new life come into the world when a cow gives birth. It is part of his connection to his love for genetics.
    “It’s probably not the average dairyman’s focus, but I’ve always liked type,” John said. “It’s hard enough to get up in the morning, so I want to wake up and milk cows with good udders.”
    Attending dairy cattle shows to scope out sire daughters and discuss bulls with other farmers has always been a pastime of John’s.
    “I think a milestone for me was to get my kids to want to show at the state fair and (Minnesota Holstein Association) state show,” he said. “I’ve always kept records so Laura would dig and dig and dig to find information to upgrade them so we could show in the registered ring. From when we started at the state show until we stopped showing, we made a lot of improvements.”
    And while showing was not the main focus of their dairy, it helps spark the family’s enthusiasm for the industry.  
    In the infancy of his dairying career, John took on the philosophy that every cow has the genetics to get to 30,000 pounds of milk in a lactation.
    “You just have to figure out how to do it,” he said.
    So instead of breeding for milk, John focuses on components. He also emphasizes the importance of keeping a low somatic cell count. The Rosenhammers milk their cows in a double-12 parallel parlor with a  basement they built in 2009.
    “It was our next big jump,” John said. “The grain prices were good so we could afford it. It cost more to put everything down there (in the basement) but it doesn’t get rusty. Everything up here is simpler and a lot quieter when we’re milking.”
    It built upon their previous milestone of constructing a new freestall barn in 2002 and increasing cow numbers over time.
    “We were under one roof,” John said. “That was huge.”
    The Rosenhammers continued milking in the tiestall barn, switching five shifts of cows each milking until they built their parlor.
    Another upgrade on the dairy came when the Rosenhammers needed to create more space for their silage bags. John took the unconventional route of using reject or used hog barn slats instead of concrete.
    “I don’t like to do what everyone else does,” John said. “I’m always looking at ways to improve. Other farmers shook their heads, but I said we were going to try the slats.”
    And it worked. Now the Rosenhammers have a 300-by-200 section of slats for the silage bags.
    “We can get feed and not mud for the cows,” John said. “That’s a big deal.”
    The slats are also a more flexible option in case the Rosenhammers ever needed to add onto their barn. The slats could be moved and reused.
    “It has really caught on,” John said. “Slats at the time were almost given away because they were piled up. Now, there’s a use for them and are in demand.”
    Regardless of how the Rosenhammers upgrade items on their dairy, they value being able to do it together with family.