ALTURA, Minn. − Just off county Highway 30 near Altura lies a dairy farm that has been diversifying for over 50 years.
    “It takes the stress off of farming and gives us something to do,” Jay Speltz said.
    Jay milks 140 cows in a tiestall barn with his dad, Philip, stepmother, Marcia, and brother, Jacob. They also farm 300 acres of alfalfa and corn.
    In addition to the milking cows, the farm is home to rabbits, fowl, fish and horses.
    “My dad was really the one who started (the diversification), and then I took over,” Jay said. “They do not really help the farm as it is just a hobby, but it is nice to look and enjoy them.”
    Philip agreed.
    “We wanted something that nobody else had,” he said. “I feel it also makes us better at what we’re doing here because if you can take care of a calf, you can probably take care of a bird too.”
    The Speltzes raise 200 pigeons of various types. They also have 12 Pomeranian and African geese, 18 ducks and some guinea hens.
    “The guinea hens are kind of our watch dogs,” Jay said.
    The farm also has eight breeds of peasants as well as four peacocks and four wild turkeys.
    “I rescued the turkeys from a field of alfalfa I was cutting last year,” Jay said. “I plan to release them when it gets nicer out.”
    Jay said they have rare hybrid peacocks. The males mature with their vibrant colors in about a year and a half.
    “They also lose all of their tail feathers every year, and in the winter, they grow them back. So, we keep them inside because they use a lot of energy to do that,” Jay said. “This way, they can have enough energy to grow a long tail and still keep body weight on.”
    The family uses old Christmas trees for the birds to nest in, and they hatch all of the eggs.
    “We let them set on some, and then the rest we put in an incubator for 28 to 30 days,” Jay said of the eggs. “Some of them are lucky and hatch out and others set and set and don’t hatch out a thing.”
    The family has perfected the ways they raise their birds.
    “We put an extra panel around the bottom of the corn cribs to keep the raccoons and skunks from pulling the birds through,” Jay said. “They will eat the birds and their eggs if they get the chance.”
    In addition to the birds, they also raise five breeds of rabbits.
    “We show some rabbits, pigeons, ducks and geese at the county and state fair,” Jay said. “I even sell some rabbits as house pets.”
    They also have three goats that kid in April and May.
    “We raise the little ones and keep a couple for ourselves,” Jay said. “It’s more of a hobby.”
    The Speltzes also raise about 100 koi and goldfish. The fish are kept in heated water through the winter.
    Every day, Jay spends an extra 45 minutes feeding and watering the many animals.
    “The little ones get feed two or three times a day,” he said. “They also need heat, so I have to make sure all lights are working so the animals do not get cold. In summer, I pick up the eggs daily.”
    The family does not make anything off of their many animals as the non-dairy animals are purely a fun hobby.
    “It is a change from the stress in the day-to-day things,” Jay said. “Depending on how the year goes, I sell what I have extra. But, there is no profit after you figure in your time, feed and death loses from predators. However, I could think of worse things I could be doing.”
    The family also takes a selection of animals, including birds, rabbits, goats and calves, to local day cares, schools and FFA programs.
    “The past few years have been slow because of COVID-19, but it seems to be picking up this year again,” Jay said. “I really like seeing the kids’ faces. They like to hold the animals.”
    People typically contact Jay and schedule a time that works best for them.
    “Depending on the group, I either go to them or they come to me,” he said. “Then we pray for good weather.”
    Last fall, the family also welcomed the local FFA chapter to the farm.
    “They came on a bus, and we gave them a tour of the farm,” Jay said.
    Philip agreed.
    “The adults got more out of it than the kids I think,” he said.
    Day care programs will also come to the farm for picnics, and local churches in Rochester have toured the farm.
    “The churches typically come out on the Saturday before Easter and have an Easter egg hunt,” Jay said. “The kids really enjoy that.”
    The family advises other dairy farmers to be cautious when diversifying.
    “It doesn’t happen overnight; it takes a long time to establish,” Philip said.
    Jay agreed.
    “It takes up a lot of time, but it’s something different and something we enjoy,” he said.