It’s all about the cows

The cows are the stars of the Louwagie and Remiger operations — but humans are needed to make sure the dairy farms keep flowing along

Photo by Jody Isaackson Pictured are the Remigers: Shelby, 6, Tate, 9, their mom Becky, Steve and Jane Remiger and hired man Steve Miller. Not pictured are Pat Remiger and son, Cole, 12, who were on vacation this week. The Remigers run ad 140 Holstein dairy herd just north of Wood Lake.

COTTONWOOD/WOOD LAKE

There used to be 40 dairies along Minnesota Highway 23 in Lyon County alone. Now there are only six in the county, dairy farmer Dan Louwagie said.

Louwagie and his two brothers, Tim and Bruce, farm together, starting the dairy in 1991. The Louwagies run 180 Holsteins through their milking parlor on their farm just southwest of Cottonwood.

“Tim is in charge of the crops,” Louwagie said. “Bruce and I run the dairy.”

They milk twice a day: 5 a.m. and 5 p.m., like clockwork. They feed in the evenings, Louwagie said. They give their cows silage (chopped corn stalks stored wet) and haylage which is custom chopped for them.

The Louwagies sell their milk to Bongards near Glencoe on U.S. Highway 212. The milk is stored in a 4,000- gallon tank until the Bongards truck comes to collect it every other day.

“The average cow produces 70 pounds per day,” Louwagie said, the equivalent of 8 gallons.

To perpetuate their herd, the Louwagies subscribe to artificial insemination (AI) with services provides by Scott Brusven from American Breeders Service (ABS).

Currently the Louwagies have about 30 calves, including one that was born just Tuesday.

Soon after calves are weaned, their mothers go back to the milking line. Calves are raised for three options depending on gender: to grow up to be milkers (females), bulls (males) for breeding, or for slaughter for meat products. Dairy farmers usually sell most or all of the bull calves and keep the heifers (female calf or cow who hasn’t had a calf) to breed and increase their milk production.

Unlike the Remigers of Wood Lake, the Louwagies do not purchase dairy products off their milk truck.

“We buy butter and cheese off the AMPI (American Milk Producers Inc.) truck,” Becky Remiger said. They also consume some of their own milk.

“We tried making butter (at home),” she said, “but it takes too long. I have also made yogurt.”

Remigers’ cows produce an average of 79 pounds or about 10 gallons per day, Becky Remiger said. Their truck also comes every other day.

She and her husband, Pat, milk 140 head of Holstein with his parents, Steve and Jane Remiger, also of rural Wood Lake. Even Becky and Pat’s children, Cole, 12, Tate, 9, and Shelby, 6, get in on the family business.

“Shelby feeds the rabbits. The boys help feed the calves,” Steve Remiger said. He and Jane Remiger started the family dairy in 1970, he said.

The Remiger cows get fed once a day in the morning. The calves get fed twice a day.

“We give them TMR, Total Mix Ration, with all the grains mixed with forage,” Becky Remiger said. “There’s a lot of silage in it.”

The Remigers perpetuate their herd through AI and calve year-round with the aid of a calving barn. Currently they have 25 calves on the lot.

“We also have a bull for hard-to-breed heifers and cows,” Becky Remiger said.

Both dairies have milk houses where the cows file into a two-lane milk house, each lane holding about eight cows. The lanes are on either side of the milking pit where the farmer or hired hand will stand to hook the cows up to milking machines that pump the milk from the teats and transport it to the holding tank.

Remiger Dairy has conducted several tours for area students.

“We’ve had the Lakeview preschool class out for about three years, now. Mrs. (Diana) Foy’s class comes out regularly,” Becky Remiger said. “Before that, we had the preschoolers from Granite Falls come out. My son’s school readiness class has come out, too.”

The Remigers said they also have participated in local parades where they have given out free milk samples.

With milking being a labor intensive 24/7 type of occupation, it is often hard to get away on vacation, but this past week, Steve and Cole Remiger were in Alaska with extended family, Becky Remiger said. She, Tate and Shelby were planning to join them this weekend.

In spite of the dairy being a constant job, Becky Remiger said she likes the fact that they’re home on the farm and not off at a city job.

“I like being able to be home,” she said. “Even when Pat is busy out in the field, I can send the kids out to ride along with him. He’s still ‘home.'”

Louwagie seemed to agree that dairy work was satisfying.

“It keeps you busy,” he said.

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