Kinnards grateful for new barn and farmers
“After the Harvest” is a new series by the Kewaunee County Star-News examining the successes and challenges faced by small- and medium-sized farms in Kewaunee County today.
This holiday season, the Kinnard family is thankful for farm and family.
They are also grateful that they are bucking the trend of the decline of the family farm in Wisconsin with both a new barn and a new generation of farmers in their family.
The Kinnard farm is thriving in spite of the fact that more than 800 mostly small- and medium-sized farms disappeared from the Wisconsin landscape last year, according to the National Agricultural Service.
“My dad was passionate about farming – he still is at 84 years old,” said Dave Kinnard who with his wife, Anita, and brother, Randy, operate the farm today. “And he passed that passion on to us.”
It was 1952 when their father, Vernon Kinnard, purchased 80 acres on Apple Road in the town of Lincoln. (The Kinnards are not related to Lee and Rodney Kinnard who operate a larger dairy operation also in the town of Lincoln.)
Vernon and his father, Joseph Kinnard, who owned a farm nearby, built the white round-roof barn with stanchions for 110 cows in 1958, a barn that has seen the family through more than 60 years of dairy farming, Randy said.
Their farm has supported the three families – including Randy’s three children and Dave’s five children – through the third generation and it wasn’t until last year when Randy’s son, Kyler, and Dave’s son, Brian, decided they also wanted to make a life out of dairy farming that their fathers sought to expand.
Over the years, the farm grew to 535 acres, the tie-stall barn was filled with dairy cows and there had been no reason to expand the herd. But this year, with the fathers and sons forming a four-way partnership by year end, the farmers needed to look at modernizing, according to Randy.
“In a lifetime of farming, this has been our biggest challenge,” he said.
Last spring, the farm began construction of a new 260 by 120-foot wood and metal free-stall barn that can house up to 240 milking cows (and 275 total cows). It has a shiny new milk tank, sand bedding for the cows and will eventually allow the cows to produce more than 24,000 pounds of milk a day, Randy said.
This October, they moved the first 80 cows into the new barn and marveled at how quickly the cows learned to line up on their own to be milked by the robot. The airy barn, complete with a skylight to let in natural light, is a sharp contrast to the dark low-ceiling older barn, which will now be used only for dry cows and calves.
“The tie-stall barn was much more labor intensive,” said Randy, noting that the efficiency of the robots for milking avoids the costs of hiring additional labor.
Of Randy’s twin sons, Kyler and Kraig, only Kyler wanted to return to the farm. A 2012 graduate of Luxemburg-Casco High School, Kyler said he was more interested in sports than agriculture while he was in high school, but began taking agriculture classes at Fox Valley Technical College after graduation and decided he preferred life in the country. Brian also completed the six-month program for agriculture at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
“When we went to high school, 40 to 50 percent of the students were from the country,” said Randy who, along with Dave, went to Luxemburg-Casco in the 1970s.
“But in my class only about four or five were from the farm,” said Kyler.
Town of Lincoln assessor Joe Jerabek confirms that while there were 86 dairy farms in the town in 1979, that number has shrunk to 12 or 13 dairy farms today.
The story of a farm and its generations of farmers doesn’t often express the long hours of work for the farmer – from sunrise to sundown – that make a farm a success. Kyler said that many in his generation are steering away from the long hours and uncertain incomes of their family farms.
“Even now, we know that on a couple of those remaining farms, the next generation doesn’t want to take over,” said Dave.
The number of active farms in Wisconsin has shrunk from a high of 200,000 in 1934 to less than 68,000 in 2013, according to the National Agricultural Statistics Service. Wisconsin farms that had sales between $100,000 and $900,000 continue to decline in average size, according to the service.
Randy said that there are several reasons that they have been able to prosper. Passing the farm from generation to generation in the family has helped them to avoid major land debt, and they have always focused on getting good production out of each cow, he said.
“If you always do a good job, things will turn out in the end,” he said. He also noted that with four partners managing the farm, each farmer would not have to work as long hours as in the past.
The partners also plan for the year-to-year fluctuation in milk prices, which last year were at a record high, but are down now.
“It averages out,” said Kyler.
He is the one who has taken charge of the new computer in the barn that helps manage everything from the robots to the health of the cows.
The partners have already purchased 13 new cows but hope to fill out the spaces in the barn from the calves of their own herd, allowing them to “stick with their own genetics,” Randy said. When the herd expansion is completed at approximately 240 milking cows, the farm will exceed the Wisconsin average dairy herd size of 124 milking cows, according to Wisconsin agricultural statistics service.
They have also built a new concrete pit for manure and were pleased to learn recently from the county that even though most of their fields are on karst bedrock with shallow soils, at least 30 acres have a depth of more than 20 feet to bedrock, giving them the land they need for manure spreading during the winter.
The families each have a house on the farm and Vernon and his wife, Betty, built a new brick home across the street when they retired. Vernon often surveys the farm from his ATV.
The men say they will continue to grow alfalfa and corn for the cows, but don’t plan to add any other products to the farm. Under their contract with Land of Lakes, their milk is delivered to the Agropur plant in Luxemburg for processing into cheese.
“We are pretty much investing in milk here,” Randy said.
CORRECTION: When the Randy, Dave and Anita Kinnard farm’s herd expansion is completed, they will have approximately 240 milking cows. The number is incorrect in one place in the Nov. 28 print edition of the Kewaunee County Star-News.
This article originally appeared on Green Bay Press Gazette: Kinnards grateful for new barn and farmers