MOUNT HOREB — Before lucky winners of door prizes could claim their bag full of Klondike cheese at an evening meeting Aug. 27, they had to answer a question posed by Wisconsin Counties Association outreach manager Jon Hochkammer: “What was your ‘a-ha’ moment on the farm tonight?”
“I’m amazed by the systems that are in place here,” one attendee said, referencing in particular the way collars worn by cows track their movements, alert farmers to when they are sick and allow them to study their heat cycles.
Another attendee said she was surprised to hear about the regulations in place for the dairy industry — and how these regulations can be a sledgehammer and a help at times. A third attendee who traveled from northeast Wisconsin said she enjoyed touring a farm “built on a staircase” of hills.
An Extension agent who has visited the farm several times before commented on the advancements the family has made to the farm, but also how a lot on the farm has stayed the same.
“You really are a treasure of the county,” she said.
More than 100 people attended the first of four twilight meetings last week hosted by the Professional Dairy Producers of Wisconsin, Wisconsin Towns Association and Wisconsin Counties Association as part of Agricultural Community Engagement, also known as ACE, a joint initiative that provides an opportunity for open discussions on farming practices, resources and other topics important to Wisconsin communities. The group gathered at Kellercrest Holsteins in rural Mount Horeb, a family dairy that has received numerous accolades for their conservation efforts and genetics.
The evening kicked off with grilled cheese sandwiches, served by PDPW staff and made with cheese from Klondike Cheese Co. of Monroe, the operation where the Kellers ship some of their milk. Attendees then branched off into several groups for farm tours, which included stops at the transition barn, feed storage area, calf barn and free-stall barn, with the Kellers inviting those interested to take a peek into the milking parlor around 8 p.m.
Bob Hagenow of Vita Plus was one of the tour guides. He explained to those in his group that his favorite thing about the Kellercrest farm is how brothers Mark and Tim Keller remain so focused and conscious, making sure all the areas of the farm are taken care of properly, especially with the cows and the land.
“They’ve been focused on the right things for so many years now,” he said. “They also advocate for dairy farmers and let people see what they do here.”
Spending some time in the feed storage area, he directed attention to the large bays where corn silage and other cover crops harvested from the farm are stored before they are mixed to be fed to the animals. An average cow at Kellercrest consumes 125 pounds of feed a day, he said, so the Kellers have to mix between 35,000 to 40,000 pounds each day to feed their herd of about 330 cows.
In the free-stall barn, many people in the group reached out to touch the noses of cows standing alert as several groups walked through their living space. Hagenow noted the frequency collars attached to each cow, the LED lights installed for maximum efficiency, the sand bedding for cow comfort and the grooming brushes used by cows to keep clean.
After the farm tours, visitors were invited back to a machine shed to engage in discussion with the Kellers and PDPW, town and county association representatives. The Keller brothers spoke about technology, genetics and the environment, as their farm is situated in two different watersheds.
Questions emerged from the audience about GMOs, how the Kellers use data collected from the cows, how Internet access has affected their business, the next generation and more.
One person asked what keeps the Kellers up at night and what gets them going in the morning, to which Tim Keller responded, “We still have that passion.”
PDPW ACE On-the-Farm Twilight Meetings are held annually in August and are free to the public. Other host farms this year were Miltrim Farms in Athens, Brey Cycle Farm in Sturgeon Bay and Double S Dairy in Markesan.