A couple of weeks ago we took a trip to Wisconsin where the license plates informed us that (if we didn’t already know) it was America’s Dairyland. Ironic since this was the first time since we bought our dairy that we left home for more than one day. If you missed it, and are interested, you can read about that trip here. It was a little stressful getting ready to go, but we left the farm at home for the most part and had a fantastic time. And to spare you the suspense, when we got home we were relieved to find that everything went smoothly without us.
When planning this trip (for a wedding, I’ll get to that) we determined that it was likely our vacation for the summer, so we needed to take a few extra days. After talking it over with his dad, David determined we could manage to be gone for 4 days. I stretched that constraint into as long of a break as I could, and we left home on Thursday afternoon and returned Monday evening.
I was looking for suggestions of things to see and do in Wisconsin when our twitter friend Jena (@jenabetley) invited us to their farm northwest of Green Bay. We accepted and took a small detour on our way from Milwaukee to Door County to visit Betley Farms. After all, how could we go to Wisconsin and not see a dairy?
Jena and her husband Jeff took over his family’s dairy several years ago and started in a situation not all that different from our own. They were milking about 200 cows with facilities almost as dated as ours. Now they milk around 1300 with a 50 cow carousel operating almost 24 hours a day and nearly new free stall barns. It was an impressive operation, and Jena was a great tour guide, answering all of our questions and offering some advice.
While our goals aren’t the same as the Betley’s, it was great to see how they made use of their old facilities after building shiny new replacements. Other than the automatic aisle scraper, the thing that impressed us most was their involvement in their operation. I hadn’t ever seen a dairy larger than 300 cows, and David hasn’t seen many. We assumed that growing to 1000+ would force you to become more of a business than a farm. That’s not all what we found though. The Betley’s have the same passion for dairy that we do. Their cows are the number one priority, just like ours. It was really refreshing to see. We left Betley Farms with a new hope that we really can make this work.
We were also ready to celebrate, which brings me to the reason for the trip – Katie and Marco got married!! The wedding was in Door County on a dock, and it was beautiful. The reception afterward was a blast. We got to see many of my friends from college who are scattered around the country, and it was awesome to spend two days hanging out and catching up with everyone, and of course celebrating the new life Katie and Marco started together – congrats, guys – we love you!
After the wedding, we spent a whole day relaxing (a very rare thing). We gradually drove south stopping at a state park for a short hike and an artisan cheese store because it sounded good. Then we stopped at Schopf’s Hilltop Dairy. This wasn’t exactly another dairy tour, but the ice cream was delicious. While we ate, we watched a worker milk the cows that produced the milk that was used to make the ice cream. There were signs describing pretty much every aspect of the operation along with a faux cow and real milk machine for visitors to give milking a try. It’s pretty cool that a place like that exists to give patrons the opportunity to connect farm to food and see where their milk and dairy products actually come from – while they’re enjoying them!
Thanks to Jena, Katie and Marco, all of our other friends, and the state of Wisconsin for a great trip. We got home rejuvenated and ready to get to work – literally. We pulled in the driveway at 6:15pm and changed clothes to go bring up some heifers that were close to having calves before spending an hour or so weeding the garden and picking veggies.