By KAREN PARKER
County Line Publisher Emeritus
Who else but a dairy farmer could you call and tell, “I’m bringing 2,500 people over for breakfast in six weeks, so please be ready”?
Really? Yes, really. As Craig Giraud, Monroe County Dairy Committee chairman pointed out, others who had indicated interest in hosting dropped away as June 3 drew closer. Finally, in desperation, Ron Mitchell of DHIA contacted Brian Friske. Two years ago, the dairy breakfast had been in Kendall, but as time slipped away, location became a non-issue.
In fact, Valley Hill Farm is so remote, one of the farm’s property lines is the border with Juneau County. The house, perched on a hillside above a broad valley, offers magnificent views and will present a challenge to setting up the tents and displays for the breakfast.
The farm might have lacked some aesthetic touches, but the problem was soon solved when 45 volunteers showed up a few weeks ago to plant flowers, paint, polish and fix up.
Anything to put a celebratory twist on what has been a dark year for the dairy industry. A milk surplus and falling prices have left many producers scrambling to make ends meet. A further blow, according to Friske, is a U.S.-Canada trade dispute over what’s called “ultra-filtered milk,” a protein liquid concentrate used to make cheese. Grassland said it lost its Canadian business when Canada changed its dairy policies to favor domestic milk over a supply from the United States. Friske said many of his fellow Grassland producers already have received letters from Grassland cancelling their contracts with producers.
Between a reduction in prices and increases in expenses, Friske estimates he lost $4 per hundredweight in one week. This leaves producers on the horns of a dilemma: increase production for more cash flow, thereby adding to the milk glut, or struggle along, trying to meet ever-increasing expenses?
“You would not do this unless you loved it,” Friske noted. And love it he does. His mother, Janice Friske, recalled the toddler she kept occupied with a pile of shell corn on the living room floor. By the time chores were over, he was to have it harvested.
“I did get it done on time,” he said with a chuckle.
Valley Hill Farm was founded in 1949 by Friske’s grandparents, Bernard and Leila. They bought 120 acres of farmland and milked 20 cows while also working off the farm, Bernard at Badger Ordnance and Leila as a nurse.
In 1971, Friske’s son and daughter-in-law, Richard and Janice, joined the operation and expanded the herd to 46 cows. They bought the farm in 1976 and raised their family there.
Brian Friske, a bachelor, bought the farm from his parents in 1991, adding a total-mixed-ration mixer and tower silos. He has kept the herd small enough to fit in his barn without having to rotate cows.
“I milk only 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.
One of the things Friske says keeps him going is providing show cows to his daughter and friends. 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.
Friske gets help with the farm from Jeannie Jones. The two are lifelong neighbors and grew up together. When mistaken for a married couple, Jones laughed and quipped, “Oh, no, we would kill each other.”
Twenty cows of the herd belong to Jones. Friske also has two hired hands, Matt Biermeier and Dwight Kramzusch. Help also comes from Friske’s daughter, Cylee.
Although the dairy breakfast rotates its location among different-sized farms, Giraud concedes that the smaller farms are very popular. Alas, they are also disappearing, and this is one opportunity to observe an endangered species up and close, plus have a very good meal for little money!
If you go:
What: Monroe County Dairy Breakfast
When: 7–11 a.m. Saturday, June 2
Where: Valley Hill Farm, 25635 Morningside Road, Kendall
Menu: Ham and cheese omelets, 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; 5 and younger, free