About 60% of the Burbachs’ 180-cow herd is Holstein, while the remainder are Jersey or Montbeliarde hybrids. The Burbachs began crossbreeding a portion of their herd several years ago. 
About 60% of the Burbachs’ 180-cow herd is Holstein, while the remainder are Jersey or Montbeliarde hybrids. The Burbachs began crossbreeding a portion of their herd several years ago. PHOTO BY JERRY NELSON
    HARTINGTON, Neb. – Over the last 10 years, on-farm milk bottling has made it possible for Dean and Lisa Burbach to sustain and expand their dairy operation.
    The Dairy Star first visited Burbach Countryside Dairy in January 2009. At that time, the Burbach family had been doing on-farm milk bottling for two years.
    “We decided to start bottling our own milk after the cheese plant in Hartington closed,” Dean said.
    There have been numerous changes at the Burbachs’ farm during the past decade.
    “All of our kids are now out of the nest except for Sara who will be a senior in high school next year,” Dean said. “It will be different for Lisa and I when Sara leaves for college.”
    Dean and Lisa have seven children: Felicia, Jeffery, Nick, Deacon, Luke, Anna and Sara. Deacon, 24, is working on the farm. He handles a variety of responsibilities that range from driving milk delivery trucks to helping with the milk bottling to doing fieldwork.
    “We purchased our 70-acre farm in 1994, the year that Lisa and I got married,” said Dean, who grew up on a nearby dairy farm. “We raised hogs for the first six months. One day, I asked the banker if I could build a dairy, and he said it was fine with him as long as I could make the payments. I began to buy dairy equipment, and we were able to build a dairy barn in 1999.”
    A decade ago, the Burbachs were milking 130 head and purchasing virtually all of their feed inputs. They are now milking 180 head and have acquired enough land to raise about half of their corn silage.
    Another big change took place two years ago when the Burbachs began to make and package yogurt on their farm. They produce raspberry, blueberry, strawberry and vanilla yogurt.
    “Every two weeks, we turn 250 gallons of milk into yogurt,” Dean said. “That translates into about 6,400 individual cups. Our yogurt is full fat, which we think is what makes it so popular. We don’t use artificial thickeners. We add a little nonfat dry milk to the vat and let the yogurt ferment longer than usual. People who try our yogurt say that it’s the best they’ve ever had.”
    Several years ago, the Burbachs began to crossbreed some of their cattle. About 60% of their cows are Holsteins, while the remainder are either Jersey or Montbéliarde hybrids. This has helped keep the herd’s average butterfat content at 4% or better.
    The Burbach family has worked to expand the number of retail outlets and coffee shops that feature their milk. Burbach Countryside Dairy’s products are available at 84 retail outlets across the region.
    “Our milk has even reached the Black Hills (of South Dakota),” Dean said. “A store called The Bee’s Knees Natural Foods sells our milk. They are the only customer who requests that our milk not be homogenized. Their customers want to be able to see the cream line.”
    The Burbachs have always used glass bottles for their milk.
    “We feel that our milk tastes better because it’s in glass bottles,” Dean said. “Glass bottles are more expensive than plastic jugs, but our bottles don’t go to the landfill. They are returned to us and reused.”
    Burbach Countryside Dairy continues to bottle milk in flavors that include banana, blue raspberry, caramel latte, orange cream, cotton candy, chocolate, root beer and strawberry. They bottle eggnog flavored milk on a seasonal basis.
    Consumer preferences have shifted dramatically over the past decade.
    “When we started bottling milk, skim milk was by far our biggest seller,” Dean said. “We sold twice as much skim milk as we did whole milk, and we didn’t know what to do with the extra cream. That has changed completely. Today, we sell five times more whole milk than we do skim milk, and we always sell all of our cream. People are starting to see the benefits of full-fat dairy products.”
    A decade ago, the Burbachs were bottling about 2,200 gallons of milk each week. They are currently bottling 3,700 gallons per week, which represents about two-thirds of their herd’s production. The balance of their milk is sold to Associated Milk Producers Inc.
    The Burbachs have grown their workforce to nine full-time employees, including family members. They continue to bottle their milk with a bottler that was made in 1949 and homogenize their milk with a machine that was manufactured in 1947.
    “We now own four milk delivery trucks,” Dean said. “It’s nice to have our own trucks, but they add another layer of headaches and expenses.”
    The COVID-19 pandemic has affected everyone. Burbach Countryside Dairy is no exception.
    “When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, we saw a big drop in sales of whole milk and cream to our coffee shop and bakery customers,” Dean said. “Some of them are now starting to come back, but I’m afraid that a few may not survive. Throughout it all, our bottled milk sales have remained fairly strong. During times such as these, people want something that’s familiar and reliable. I think our glass bottles of milk give folks a sense of comfort.”
    Another effect of the pandemic has been an increase in orders for yogurt from food banks.
    “We are glad to do our part to help provide food for those in need,” Dean said.
     Lisa is thankful to have been able to work alongside family members.
    “It’s been quite an experience,” she said as she looked back on the past 10 years.
    Looking ahead, Dean hopes to expand yogurt sales in addition to other avenues.
    “We have noticed the increasing demand for farm-fresh meat, so we’re thinking about adding a plant where we can process some of our animals,” he said. “That way, we can help fill the demand for meat and add value to our cattle.”
    The Burbachs have worked hard to grow their business but know that none of their success would be possible without their customers.
    “We have built up a very loyal customer base,” Dean said. “Knowing that people are choosing to buy our products is the best feeling in the world.”