It's big business. It's a family business. It's a big family business — and the fourth generation of the Kragness family in Colfax will join grandma, parents, and daughter to host the 20th annual Dunn County Dairy Breakfast, giving all comers a chance to see the new expanded dairy at E7455 County Road B on Saturday, June 8.
And it's a good bet that Great-Grandpa Anton Kragness, who bought land near Colfax after emigrating from Norway in 1898, and his two sons Lloyd and Andrew, who followed him on the farm and also have since passed away, will be looking over the operation from above.
"I knew going into college I was going to come home and farm," says Karl Kragness, Anton's great grandson. Karl graduated from University of Wisconsin-River Falls with a degree in Broad Area Agriculture and a minor in Agronomy in 2002. That year, he joined his parents, Dennis and Mary, and all agreed the outdated facilities would have to be replaced.
Then and now
"It took three solid years of planning, working with the lender, consultant and a team of people to build a new facility," Karl says. And in doing so, a lot of considerations were different than the ones Anton faced.
"One hundred years ago, a farmer looked for a site close to a creek for water, a hill for protection of his cows," says Dennis. "Now we look for flat open fields. That led us out here. We can raise most of our crops and dispose of our manure within 10 miles."
Denmark Dairy now rests on a gentle rise on the flat Rusk Prairie, where the open stall cow barns get summer breezes and a slope carries wastewater to a large lagoon. The original move brought 200 milking cows from the original dairy south of Colfax to the new facility designed to milk six hundred cows. Additional cattle were purchased to fill the barn, and now the herd has grown to 850 cows, with 950 heifers raised off the farm. The dairy owns over 1100 acres and farms more than 1600 acres.
"It's important to realize we invest a lot in the comfort of our animals," Karl says. "Sand (for bedding) is the best option for cow comfort. Fans run overhead, and in summer we run sprinklers to cool the cows. In the new barn, automated wall curtains run on thermostats, and the barn ceiling is insulated, making it cooler in the summer. Cows can handle cold. It's heat that is hard on them."
Milk pays the bills
Denmark Dairy cows produce 29,500 pounds of milk per cow per year. Cows are milked three times day in the double 16 milking parlor facility. Milk is piped through a plate cooler, which instantly drops the temperature to 35 degrees, and goes directly into a 6,000-gallon tanker. A tanker is filled every 16 hours and is then delivered to Swiss Miss in Menomonie, where the milk is used in puddings and milk chocolate products.
"There's a lot of different ways to farm," says Dennis. At the home farm, he once experimented with rotational grazing and found it did not work for him.
"Milk pays the bills. We built to maximize milk production, with sand-bedded free stalls in a 4-row barn,” he said. “That facility is best to maximize production. With such a large investment, we need to produce a lot of milk."
Along with cow comfort and high quality feed, the dairy stresses good genetics. All cows are artificially inseminated. There are no bulls on the premises. While there are a few brown faces among the black and white ones, all are Holsteins. The dairy employs a work force of 10 to 11 men.
Aside from the large cow barns, Denmark has to pay a lot of attention to manure management and feed storage. In 2007, a lagoon was built to store 3.5 million gallons of manure. That same year, an asphalt feed pad was added.
In 2008, a solid separator was installed to extend the lagoon storage and improve sand quality on reclaimed sand. Karl and his wife, Mandy, bought more land and forage harvesting equipment to harvest and deliver all of the forage needs.
In 2011, another 250 cow special needs barn was built for calving, dry cows and fresh cows. The asphalt feed pad was doubled in size and in 2012, the commodity shed and shop were built. That same year, Karl and Mandy had their first child, Olivia.