KENDALL — Just a few weeks ago, Monroe County dairy farmer Brian Friske could have never imagined that he would be hosting the 38th annual Monroe County June Dairy Breakfast. But that is exactly what he and his family will be doing on June 2 on his Kendall farm, Valley Hill Farms.
“About four weeks ago I got a phone call asking if I would be interested in hosting the dairy breakfast. When I asked what year and was told this year, I thought he was out of his mind,” Friske said.
After discussing the possibility with his family and a few neighbors, Friske decided to take on this year’s dairy breakfast, a task that has proven to be a lot of work.
“If it wasn’t for Jeanie, our general manager of sorts, and four neighborhood ladies, this would never have been possible. They have been working hard to get the place looking nice and ready for the people to come,” he said.
Valley Hill Farms was founded in 1949 by Friske’s grandparents, Bernard and Leila. They bought 120 acres of farmland and milked 20 cows on the Juneau-Monroe county line, while also working off the farm.
In 1971, Friske’s parents, Richard and Janice, joined the operation and expanded the herd to 46 cows. They bought the farm in 1976 and raised their family there. Friske bought the farm from his parents in 1991.
“(Brian) wanted to farm since he was knee high to a grasshopper,” Janice said. “He used to have thousands of acres of corn on the living room floor. I used to shell out ears of corn and that would be his fields and he would have to have it ‘harvested’ by the time he went to bed.”
Friske made a few changes since taking over in 1991, including adding a total-mixed-ration mixer and tower silos. He has kept the herd small enough to fit in his current barn without having to rotate cows.
“I only milk what the barn will hold, which is 58 cows. Together with the dry cows we have about 70 total and then there are about 90 heifers,” he said.
Milking is done with the help of employees Jeannie Jones and Matt Biermier, and Dwight Kramzusch helps with chores and fieldwork. Jones, who has been friends with Friske since they were kids, raises the calves on her nearby farm.
Jones said they do a lot of bartering to make things work, including trading things like labor for hay for her horses — something she said is key especially in the current dairy climate.
“It is crucial for farmers to help each other out,” she said.
Friske said having good neighbors is important not only to help out physically, but also mentally.
“There are a lot of challenges out there right now. If you don’t love what you do, you wouldn’t do it. Anybody else would say forget it,” he said.
One of the major reasons he keeps going is his ability to provide show cows to children in the area to take to the fair in the summer. Last year, he took 16 head to the Juneau County Fair and plans to take as many as he can to the fair again this year.
“My daughter and a lot of other area kids are showing our animals at the county fairs. For most of them, they have never been out on a farm and this is their only exposure to a farm. That is a big reason why I keep doing what I am doing,” Friske said.
Friske said he likes what he is doing and the size of his farm because of how personal it is.
“I like the personal touch with the cows. In many free-stall barns, a cow is a number. To us, that cow is something more than a number. They all have names, and they are more like pets,” he said. “I never thought I would see the day when I would cry getting rid of a cow, but I have done that more than once. You get attached to the animals.”
Keith Giraud, Monroe County Dairy Committee chairman, said that is one of the reasons why they hope to keep hosting an on-farm dairy breakfast each year.
“It was a real challenge to find a host this year because there are fewer and fewer farms around, but it is important. There is a real disconnect between consumers and farmers and this event gives families the opportunity to get out on a farm,” Giraud said.
He said each year they try to move around not only in the county but also to different types of farms, showcasing all types of Monroe County dairy farms.
“Last year we were on a farm with a carousel milking parlor, but we also want to get on smaller farms too. We want people to see that no matter the size, the animals are well taken care of,” Giraud said.
If you go
What: Monroe County Dairy Breakfast.
When: Saturday, June 2, 7 to 11 a.m.
Where: Valley Hill Farms, 25635 Morningside Road, Kendall.
Menu: Ham and cheese omelet, pancakes, Culver’s strawberry sundaes, coffee cake, cookies, buttered toast, cheese, coffee and milk.
Activities: Opening ceremony at 8:30 a.m., educational displays, children’s activities, dairy barn viewing, antique tractor display, horse-drawn wagon rides and an animal exhibit.
Cost: Adults, $5; children 6-10, $3; under 5, free.