Cars slowly pass through the freestall barn June 19 during the drive-thru tour at the Huneke family’s dairy farm near Bellechester, Minnesota.
Cars slowly pass through the freestall barn June 19 during the drive-thru tour at the Huneke family’s dairy farm near Bellechester, Minnesota. PHOTO SUBMITTED
    BELLECHESTER, Minn. – The cows at the Huneke family’s dairy saw a parade of more than just the tractor and feed mixer drive through their barn the morning of June 19.
    A steady line of vehicles packed with kids and adults alike wound its way through the barns for a pandemic-safe version of a breakfast on the farm at the 240-cow dairy near Bellechester. The dairy is owned and operated by Paul Huneke and his two sons, Marc and Micah.
    “It was a spur of the moment thing,” Micah Huneke said about deciding to host the event.
    The Goodhue County American Dairy Association board had canceled its breakfast for this year amidst the threat of COVID-19. But at the end of May, the Hunekes received a call about hosting the event in a new way.
    “We thought if there was any year to do it, this would be the year,” Huneke said.
    In its normal fashion, the annual county breakfast on the farm has drawn upwards of 1,800 people in more recent years.
    “We can’t really host because we don’t have a good area to park a lot of the cars,” Huneke said.
    However, their barns have wide alley ways, which made it a perfect set up for people to take a tour from the comfort and safety of their vehicles.  
    Cars entered the farm’s field drive way near the end of the freestall barn, waiting in one of three lines to take their turn to join the tour. Volunteers from farm organizations and businesses greeted people in their cars with information pamphlets and a dairy bingo sheet.
    “The attendees had stuff to look for the whole time,” Huneke said.
    Examples of items included in the game were to spot a blue tractor or the red cow in the barn.
    After driving through the freestall barn, people drove past the back of the transition barn where the Hunekes had a display of antique tractors before the tour continued around the north side of their feed bunker. There, the Hunekes parked their haybine, tractor and wagon, and tractor with a blade, along with their custom harvester’s self-propelled chopper. Along the front of the bunker, attendees could see the feed piled along with a skidloader and mixer tractor. After the bunker, people drove past the end of the farm’s transition barn, where local dairy princesses and Princess Kay of the Milky Way were available for pictures if people felt comfortable enough to leave their car for a socially-distance photo opportunity. As the cars drove past the milking parlor, they were given a goodie bag full of donated items, including milk, ice cream, yogurt, cheese and crackers, among other items. The last part of the tour was driving through the calf barn before exiting the Hunekes’ driveway.
    “People really liked the calf barn so they took their time in there,” Huneke said. “At one point, vehicles were bumper to bumper from beginning to end.”
    Two nutritionists – one in the bunker and one in the freestall barn – were available for people to ask questions. The Hunekes also dispersed themselves on the tour route along with other volunteers.
    “A lot of people stopped to ask very good questions,” Huneke said. “People weren’t rushed so they could ask what they wanted. With the drive-thru, it may have been easier to ask questions because everyone had the opportunity and the access to people along the way.”
    Hunekes started letting people drive through at 7 a.m. Although the event was advertised to end at 11 a.m., the last of the 417 vehicles that took part in the event rolled through at noon, Huneke said. It is estimated that 1,136 people participated in the drive-thru. It was a close match to the 1,000 milk cartons and 1,000 ice cream treats on hand to give away.
    “Organizers had no idea what to expect so they just kind of spit balled the number of items they got,” Huneke said. “They didn’t know if people were going to come with the coronavirus or be too scared and stay away.”
    Some people who came expressed thanks for having the event.
    “There were a few elderly people who said they wouldn’t have come if it wasn’t a drive-thru,” Huneke said. “And a few mothers said it was nice they could just stay in the vehicle and didn’t have to chase their kids around.”
    At its busiest point during the morning, the tour took about one hour from beginning to end.
    “If people went to a breakfast on the farm, they would burn that much time or more anyways,” Huneke said.
    The Huneke family is appreciative of the Goodhue County American Dairy Association who planned the event and for all the neighbors and community members who helped them prepare to be hosts.
    “People heard we were doing the event like this and asked us if they could help us get ready and get things cleaned up,” Huneke said. “It’s nice to have a community like that. There were a lot of people working behind the scenes.”
    Overall, the Hunekes were pleased with how well the event turned out. And their cows did not mind the parade, either.