When folks attend Fillmore County’s Dairy Night on the Farm at Duschee Hills Dairy of rural Lanesboro, they will be touring a dairy farm that has been in the same family for nearly 80 years. Pat and Christine Troendle and Ben and Darla Taylor will be hosting the annual event on Saturday, June 25, from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m.
Duschee Hills Dairy is a 200-cow dairy farm situated on 580 acres of rolling farmland just southwest of Lanesboro. The Troendles and Taylors utilize contour strip farming on 90 different identifiable fields where they employ a corn/alfalfa crop rotation to conserve the topsoil on their highly erodible land. They also have buffer strips along the creeks, river and other waterways to help protect the sensitive aquifer of southeast Minnesota.
“We work hard to farm the land with as little an impact to the environment as possible,” Christine noted. “That’s why we have so many different fields.”
Christine and her brother, Ben, are fourth generation owners of the farm.
The scenic dairy farm is tucked in the Duschee Creek valley near the confluence of the Root River. It has been owned by the same family since 1937, when it was purchased by Norwegian immigrants Sven and Ingeborg Soma. The Somas’ eldest daughter, Kari, caught the eye of Missouri native George Taylor, who was working at the CCC (Citizen Conservation Corps) camp near Lanesboro. The two later married and George joined the farming family.
When Sven and Ingeborg purchased the farm in 1937, it consisted of 300 acres of cropland and pastures with 35 Guernsey cows, hogs and chickens. With George and Kari involved, the farming operations grew. A 50-stall masonry barn was built in 1962. In 1970, George and Kari’s son, Edward, and his wife, Verna, joined the operation, forming Taylor Farms.
Six years later, Ed’s brother, Lewis, joined the partnership and their father, George, retied. Taylor Farms continued to grow. The barn was expanded to 75 stalls and the land base was increased to over 300 acres of cropland in 1979.
In 1993, Ed and Verna’s daughter, Christine, and her husband, Pat, from the Spring Grove area, joined the operation, forming Duschee Hills Dairy. About this time, Lewis began to phase out of the operation.
In 1994, the milking barn was renovated to a 16-stall, step-up, walk-through flat barn parlor. That same year, the first sand bedded freestall barn was constructed. A second freestall barn was built in 1997 to accommodate the dairy herd, which had grown to nearly 170 animals.
Ben and Darla joined the operation in 1999. Five years later, a double-eight parallel parlor was built in 2004.
In 2005, Ed exited the partnership, although he and Verna continued to be active in the operation.
Duschee Hills Dairy milks around 200 Holstein and crossbreds twice a day. They raise their own replacement cows, sell about 30 surplus heifers each year and also sell their bull calves.
They have three full-time employees, Tom Schramm, Chaz Draper and Peter Ruen and two part-time employees, Andy Bunge and Steve Soland, who all help with the milking, feeding chores, crops and maintenance issues. They also have two “very part-time” employees, Dave Rogers and Katlyn Evans, who help with calf feeding.
“We are so blessed with our employees,” Christine noted. “They are amazing people to work with. They are able to do such a wide range of activities required to make this work. And when one of them needs to take a vacation, the others are always able to fill in.”
With two families involved in the operation, how do they make it work?
“We all have our own role,” Pat explained. Pat is in charge of herd nutrition, employee training, and supervises the two-a-day milking operations. Ben is in charge of maintaining the equipment and facilities and the planting and harvesting of the crops. Christine is in charge of the finances and record keeping, as well as the calf feeding and serves as a back-up milker. Darla is the Lanesboro city clerk. And while Verna passed away last year, Ed still helps out wherever he’s needed.
While the dairy aspect is the main focus at Duschee Hills Dairy, Pat said they do have about a dozen pigs, which the kids use for 4-H projects.
Many area dairy farms continue to grow, increasing their dairy herds to 500, 750 and even 1,000 animals. Is that in the future for Duschee Hills Dairy?
“That won’t happen here,” Pat replied. “We are kind of restricted with the fish hatchery, the river, the hills and being so close to Lanesboro. But we all feel our current situation, our herd numbers, the land we are farming is all working out well for us. We have a great group of employees, who are able to shift around when needed. It seems to be working out with the family units we have.”
Getting ready for Dairy Night on the Farm is a little like getting ready for a graduation or wedding in the family. The Troendles, Taylors and their employees have all been quite busy getting ready for the big event. This isn’t the first time Duschee Hills Dairy has hosted an event like this. In 1998, they hosted Dairy Breakfast on the Farm. They’ve also hosted several state legislative tours, tours from the local public school and also a Rhodes Scholars tour.
“The dairy association wanted us to host the event two years ago, but the bridge (Highway 16 bridge) was under construction so we couldn’t,” Christine said.
“And last year we had Travis’ graduation, so we had a good excuse then as well. But this year, we really didn’t have an excuse, so we said yes,” she concluded with a smile.