The Kugaths (from left) – Mike, Jan and Harlan – dairy farm near Cologne, Minnesota. While Mike owns the cows and equipment, Harlan and Jan continue to be involved on the farm.
The Kugaths (from left) – Mike, Jan and Harlan – dairy farm near Cologne, Minnesota. While Mike owns the cows and equipment, Harlan and Jan continue to be involved on the farm. PHOTO BY JENNIFER COYNE

    COLOGNE, Minn. – Rain, snow or wind does not stop Harlan and Jan Kugath from making their way to the dairy barn every morning.
    The couple, ages 83 and 79, respectively, looks forward to their daily routine – up at dawn, a quick breakfast and then chores on their family’s 40-cow dairy farm in Carver County near Cologne.

    “I’ll retire when they close the cover,” Harlan said.
    Harlan and Jan purchased the dairy farm from Harlan’s parents in 1963. Harlan grew up on the farm and remembers being about 8 years old when he first started milking cows and helped his father put the milking units back in the milk house.
    About 18 years ago, they sold the livestock and machinery to their son, Mike. The family farms 280 acres of corn, oats and alfalfa as feed for the cows.
    The couple begins their days at 4:30 a.m.
    Jan is the first one out of the house. She begins each morning by cleaning the mangers and bringing down more shelled corn and corn silage from the silos. She then helps Mike in the tiestall barn prepping the cows for milking.
    After morning milking, Jan feeds the calves. At any given time, the Kugaths have about 25 calves to care for.
    “By 10 a.m., I’m done outside and ready to be back in the house,” Jan said.
    Harlan begins his day with a breakfast and is out the door by 6:30 a.m.
    As his wife and son are milking, he spends about an hour hauling feed in the Bobcat. The herd is fed a mix of sweet corn silage and corn silage, both stored in the silo or in a bag.
    “Once milking is done, the cows go out and then we bed, feed and bring the cows back in,” Harlan said.
    Then, Harlan and Jan clean use a wheelbarrow to deliver haylage in front of the stalls.
    By 12:30 p.m. Harlan retreats to the house for a short time.
    “I am slowing up though, so I look forward to my two-hour nap every day,” he said.
    In the afternoons, Harlan often mixes feed, works on machinery and runs errands for the farm before beginning evening chores.
    Mike then milks with help from high school students who work part time for the Kugaths.
    “We’ve always had the right kind of help, a lot of good high school help,” Harlan said.
    The Kugaths have had former high school students return to help while on college break, invite the couple to milestone events in their life, and even bring their significant others or children to the farm to meet Harlan and Jan long after they have stopped working on the dairy.
    “I can’t begin to count how many high school graduations or weddings we’ve been invited to,” Harlan said. “Any of these kids working here will be good employees for anyone. I know that.”
    Jan agreed.
    “They’ve all been very dependable,” she said. “I hope we’ve shown them responsibility.”
    The Kugaths’ farming philosophy has been built on responsibility. Harlan took on much of the family’s farm work when he was in high school and continued to as a young adult when his father became ill and could not work.
    “I fell into farming or I was subject to the draft,” Harlan said. “I was exempt if I kept working on the farm. I needed to run the farm to support my folks.”
    Then, Jan quickly became a part of the farm.
    “I married into it,” she said. “I keep doing it because it’s just my responsibility. It keeps me active and in good health.”
    Throughout the years, the Kugaths have seen many good times in farming paired with just as many bad. The year 1965 stands out to Harlan. He could not spread manure from New Year’s Eve until April. Then, the wet spring conditions did not let up, and Harlan could not seed oats until May 26 and finished planting corn June 27. The growing season was short as a freeze came in early September.
    “I remember there were three times that year the truck never came to pick up the milk because of the weather,” Harlan said. “Some people were paid what their milk would have been because it was never picked up.”
    But nothing could prepare the farmer for 2019.
    “I’ve never farmed through a year like this last one,” Harlan said. “And, what a shame we’ve been paid by government insurance.”
    The Kugaths completed harvest with a corn grain yield less than a typical year. Normally, Mike has enough bushels for himself and some to sell.
    “The alfalfa was tough too,” Harlan said. “We never got the Harvestore full. We bought hay from three neighbors and we’re still going to be short.”
    Despite the challenges this past year brought, the Kugaths are grateful to still be milking cows. Harlan credits his father’s way of dairy farming for the farm’s stability.
    “We’re still making a living off the farm,” Harlan said. “Dad started in the ‘40s, and we’ve focused on feet and legs, and udders ever since. It’s definitely helped having a good herd to start with and the genetic ability is there.”
    As Harlan and Jan think about their family’s business – where it began, how its formed and where it will go with Mike at the helm – they are pleased. They have worked with many people to maintain and improve the farm, and also created lasting friendships with others in the dairy community.
    While the couple certainly has an impressive career behind them, there is no slowing down for the Kugaths.
    “They always say if you take care of the cows, they’ll take care of you. And, that’s very true,” Harlan said. “I really can’t imagine not doing this. As long as I’m here, I’m not going to sit and look out the window at the farm.”
    As the sun sets on another day at the farm, Harlan and Jan are already looking forward to the next morning.