A day in the life of the Byrnes family

Clark County family opens the barn doors for education

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NEILLSVILLE, Wis. — The Byrne family has noticed that even in their small town of Neillsville, the average person seems to have less understanding of agriculture and the dairy industry than they did a few years ago.

That trend troubles the Byrnes family, so they are building connections within their community and sharing the story of the dairy industry and agriculture a part of their lives.

That commitment to educating consumers led the Byrne family to a bustle of activity that engulfed their 326-acre Clark County dairy farm the morning of June 9, as they opened the farm to serve nearly 2,000 people for the annual Neillsville Dairy Breakfast, put on by the Neillsville Chamber of Commerce and the Neillsville FFA Alumni.

“It’s a lot of work to host the dairy breakfast, but we think it is worth it,” Terry Byrne said. “Too many people don’t have a good understanding of where their food comes from, or what we do to produce that food for them.”

Terry and Becky Byrne, along with their son, Michael, operate the farm, milking 100 cows. Michael recently graduated from the farm operations program at Mid-State Technical College with aspirations of transitioning into ownership of the farm and becoming the third generation.

Their oldest daughter, Melissa, farms full time with her husband, Andy Vine, and their three children, Weston, Payson and Calvin. Their other daughters, Carla and Jenna, are both involved in the farm on a part-time basis, working around their jobs.

Becky said this was the second time they had hosted the dairy breakfast.

“We had it here 11 years ago, today,” Becky said. “I believe we served around 2,100 people that year. It was a great crowd. Today looks to be a beautiful day. I hope to have another great turnout.”

As the sun rose, the Byrne family started getting their daily chores taken care of before the army of volunteers helping to run the breakfast began to descend upon the farm.

The cows were milked and fed, the barns cleaned and scraped, and the final touches were made in preparation for presenting the farm to the public.

While the day of the event and the weeks preceding the breakfast were busy with preparations, the Byrnes have been working to prepare their farm for the onslaught of visitors for months.

“We knew last fall it was a possibility that we would be hosting, so we started doing some projects around the farm then,” Becky said. “We found out we would be hosting for certain back in February, and with the mild winter and the nice weather we had earlier this spring, we were able to get a lot of yard work and general cleaning up done. With all the rain we’ve had lately, it’s been more difficult, but we just kept working.”

The recent wet weather has created some anxiety for the family Terry said.

“We figured that by this weekend we’d have everything planted and our first crop wrapped up,” Terry said. “Unfortunately, that isn’t the case. We don’t have all of our corn planted yet and the only hay we’ve done is the field we’re using as the parking lot.”

Rain the day before the breakfast caused concern for the condition of that parking lot, but the Byrnes were relieved the day of the event to see it in relatively good shape to handle the volume of traffic expected throughout the day.

Besides for the dairy breakfasts, for the past 15 years, they have hosted the fourth graders from the Neillsville school district.

Between hosting those students and their ties to agriculture education through Carla who is the FFA adviser in Neillsville, the Byrnes family said they have come to realize there are very few students living in their community with knowledge of where their food comes from. 

“There are always the kids who come out here thinking that the brown cows give chocolate milk, but we (also) see the misconceptions people get from things they see in the media,” Becky said. “Those are all ways of thinking we can try to impact with education.”

Terry said the real appeal of the tradition of a local dairy breakfast is the on-farm venue. Each year, in the spirit of community, the host family chooses a charity to receive a portion of the proceeds of the breakfast. This year the Byrnes chose to support the Neillsville Fire Department.

“It’s important to us to have people here, not just to educate consumers, but to help build a sense of community among our neighbors,” Terry said. “We enjoy going to breakfasts hosted at farms, seeing other farms in our area, and we enjoy sharing our farm with others as well.”

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