It's June Dairy Month, the perfect time to visit a local dairy farm to see just how dairy products originate. Attending Dairy Night on the Farm is the perfect opportunity to see a working dairy in action while visiting with local dairy producers. This year, Redalen Holstein Farm in rural Lanesboro is hosting the event on Saturday, June 27, from 5 to 8 p.m.
Michael Redalen grew up on the farm and has always considered it his home. He is working towards taking over the dairy industry from his parents, Donny and Penny, who had inherited it from his family. In all, the farm has been in his family for four generations, something very exciting to see.
After graduating from high school in 1997, Michael headed off to the University of Minnesota, graduating in 2001. His parents wanted to lighten their load on the farm, but they only had part-time employees, and this prompted them to downsize a bit.
"I was not sure I wanted to come back to the farm. Donny and Penny had dispersed the milking herd (by that time), but kept the younger stock in case they wanted to get back into it," Michael related.
After a period of time spent being a field salesman, he decided it was not something he wanted to do. In 2002, his parents would have sold the last of the young stock that would have been a starter for a new herd.
"I thought, 'If I don't do dairy now, I will have no chance.' The older generation had the farms, but it is really hard for the younger generation to start from scratch," Michael said.
So he bought the remaining 40 heifers from Donny and Penny and a few others from other local farmers in the area.
From then on, he owned the cows, but rented the facility and bought feed from his parents, who are also still heavily involved in the farm, producing some cash crops and feeding the calves each day.
Up until 2013, Michael milked 100 cows in tie stanchions. The farm itself might not be what could classify as a large farm today, but there are around 200 acres of hay and around 400 acres of corn and beans.
Michael, himself, has a son and the farm supports both his family and his parents. This would probably not be possible without the dairy income.
In 2013, a new development came into being on the Redalen Holstein Farm. Michael wanted to continue to expand his herd for several years, but that was just not possible in his current set-up. The farm was not large enough to merit hiring more employees. He began planning for constructing a new barn with new, more modern equipment, including robots. Over the course of a couple years, the plans came into fruition and his herd grew.
"I grew within as much as possible to fill the (new) barn. Then I bought cattle from other local herds," Michael noted.
He did as much business with local companies as possible — for plumbing and equipment and the like.
In the fall of 2013, the building was completed, but the herd began transitioning to the new barn slowly, especially to get used to a robot handling them versus human touch. Thanks to a lot of hard work and volunteer help, the cows were well versed in the new set-up by the time the robotic milkers were put to use.
With the use of the robots, the herd expanded to 220 cows — 175 of which were the milking herd and the rest dry cows — and 200 young stock from older bred heifers all the way down to the young calves. With this many cows, the milkers are running around the clock.
The number of times a certain cow is milked in a day is varied depending on the stage in her lactation cycle, but most are milked twice a day. The robots have helped expand the herd almost twice its size from the previous milking style, but the farm only requires the same amount of labor as before.
The machines certainly help relieve the farmer of milking, but with an even greater number in the herd, there is still a great deal of work to do.
"I still get up at the same time other farmers do, 5 or 5:30 a.m. For the first hour, there are always cows that need to be fetched — a sick or lame cow— and we're always training heifers," Michael described. "We feed twice a day. It motivates the cows to get up in the morning and head to the milking stall."
Shortly after the herd wakes up and heads up to eat, regular chores begin, scraping stalls and getting rid of the waste left behind. By 7:30 a.m., Michael's full-time employee, Paul Lacey, shows up. Then begins three to four hours of mixing the feed.
No day is truly a routine day, but some days focus on a particular duty, like spreading manure, planting and harvesting.
The robots have proven to be a tremendous asset to the farm, alleviating hands-on milking time and also helping the farmer know more about the health and production of the cows since an individual no longer looks at each individual cow every day.
"The robots help manage the herd better and we get better feed and more free time for off the farm activities," Michael explained. "It is working good, but I think better days are ahead yet."
All the process of milking will be demonstrated as a part of the Dairy Night on the Farm on Saturday, June 27.
"It is an honor to be asked to host that night. We have been asked for a few years, but we weren't ready last year. We're excited to have it here because the robots are a draw and it is somewhat in the center of the county," he said.
The Fillmore County American Dairy Association will be taking care of most of the coordinating details of the evening. There will be cheeseburgers, beans and potato salad for a free-will donation meal. And of course there will be inflatable jump toys for kids to enjoy as well as a corn box.
The night itself will serve a dual purpose. It will also be an open house for the new building.
"The people who worked on the new barn would like to see the barn completed. The ADA was fine with that," Michael related.
Dairy Night on the Farm is a good chance for people to learn more about where their dairy products come from and see just one of the many different styles used for producing the milk.
For a time of fun and learning about what is behind a jug of milk on the grocery store shelf, make sure to take in Dairy Night on the Farm at Redalen Holsteins. The farm is located at 30046 High Road, Fountain, Minn.