My name is Cody Rasmus, Farm Liaison for Kalona Farms, the company that procures milk for Kalona SuperNatural products. Recently, I had the opportunity to sit down with a couple of our producers–Merle and Ryan Borntrager–a father and son team. Both men have been milking cows and farming their whole lives. In this producer spotlight we feature Merle’s story. Merle started milking with his father as a young boy and then moved to his current farm over two decades ago. His family transitioned to organic when they began shipping milk to Farmers Creamery in 2006.
Producer Spotlight: Life on the Farm
Merle and the rest of the family wake up before the sun and start milking. This is the only way of life that Merle has ever known and he enjoys it! His only son, Ryan, has taken interest in milking and farming as well. Merle is pleased that Ryan decided to follow in his footsteps and farm. With another family member helping full time it allows Merle to teach Ryan how to sustain the small, family farm. As might be expected, Merle says Ryan is a little more ambitious about growth and opportunities than he is. They keep each other in check when it comes to new ideas. I asked Merle why he enjoys milking and farming so much. He said the main thing is that the whole family is involved. Even his youngest daughter, at the age of 5, is out helping with milking duties and chores. He said she gets to take care of the baby calves and bottle feed them. Another reason Merle enjoys this lifestyle is because he is his own boss. This allows him flexibility with his job. Finally, he likes the job security. The cows and land will always be there if properly cared for.
The Cows and Farmland
Merle is farming ground that has been in his family for years, as well as new ground that they rent. The new ground allows for more opportunities and growth. The family ground surrounds their home, which makes it more convenient for their traditional lifestyle.
The Borntragers raise Holstein Dairy cows. He has milked Holsteins most of his life and does not see himself ever milking anything different. They calve mainly from early fall all the way until either April or May. The Borntragers have good luck with the cows birthing on their own, however there are times that the family has to assist during the process.Their main goal is to give both mom and baby the best care!
A Borntragers’ Normal Day of Milking
The Borntrager family is typically up and in the barn by 4:30 am to prepare for milking. That was very impressive to me! Merle does a lot of the milking duties while Ryan starts feeding the cows stored hay. The other 7 family members help out with whatever is needed to get the job done. Even the youngest daughter helps out! They carry all of the milk to the bulk tank with 5 gallon vacuum sealed pails! Needless to say, they have to make several trips! On the Borntrager farm, the milking is all done in a tie stall barn, not a parlor. They milk one group of cows, release them and bring in the next group. This whole process takes the family approximately 2 ½ to 3 hours to complete. Then, at 4:30 pm the family starts this whole process over again! They enjoy doing it and can’t imagine doing anything else!