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Moo-Day Brunch: A hot time on the farm

June 20, 2016

It was a hot time in the old town of West Point.

Columbia County’s 39th annual Moo-Day Brunch, in honor of June Dairy Month, took place Saturday under sunny skies, and in sweltering heat and humidity. But that didn’t seem to bother anyone -- not the approximately 1,200 people who ate pizza and grilled cheese sandwiches for breakfast, not the anonymous dairy enthusiast who danced around in a plush cow costume, not the politicians who stumped for votes and not the 200 milking Holsteins on the farm southwest of Lodi.

If the cows were bothered by anything, it wasn’t the heat, but the crowd of people in the milking parlor.

“She’s a little nervous,” said host farmer John Miller, as a cow approached one of the fours DeLaval robotic milkers.

As the cow hung back, he coaxed: “Come on. Come on. It’s all right.”

Fourth Generation Homestead, which has been on the same O’Connor Road site west of Lodi since 1899, has been using the robotic milkers for a little less than a year.

The cows come to the milkers when they’re ready, which happens on average about 2.89 times a day. It takes each robot about seven minutes to milk each cow, harvesting 80 pounds of milk per cow per day.

Miller said the robotic system is capable of summoning a farmer, via Smart Phone, if a manual adjustment or override is needed.

But the farm is, in every sense, a hands-on family affair.

It’s actually the fifth generation that owns the limited liability corporation that comprises the operation: John, his son, Tyler, and his daughter, Samantha.

Initially, John Miller told the Moo-Day Brunch attendees, his children moved off the farm in pursuit of other endeavors.

Tyler was in the U.S. Marine Corps for three years.

Samantha had gone to the University of Wisconsin-Platteville with the goal of becoming a veterinarian.

Both, however, eventually declared that they wanted to come home and farm.

And John and his wife, Dawn, assured them that there would be a place for them at Fourth Generation Homestead.

“The kids told me that it’s the fifth generation,” he said. “I told them that when this sign is worn out, we’ll change the sign.”

Master of ceremonies Bob Hagenow praised the Fourth Generation Homestead as the epitome of Wisconsin family farming.

“You are a solid member of our food chain,” he said.

That’s one of the reasons why the Moo-Day Brunch is held on the third Saturday in June: To offer insight on food production to people who, for the most part, are at least three or four generations removed from farming.

The reigning Alice in Dairyland, Ann O’Leary of Evansville, isn’t a farm girl.

She is, she said, the first generation of her family not to grow up on the family-owned farm. But that didn’t stop her from showing Jersey and Holstein cattle in fairs.

Of Wisconsin’s $88.3 billion agriculture industry, she said, the dairy industry accounts for about $43.4 billion. (California, not Wisconsin, is the nation’s top milk producer, but Wisconsin leads the nation -- and the world -- in cheese production, with more than 600 varieties.)

O’Leary noted that America’s Dairyland is the nation’s top producer of ginseng, cranberries and mink pelts.

As she strolled along the grounds of what was her fifth June Dairy Month event since she became the 69th Alice in Dairyland on June 6, O’Leary chatted with attendees, asking if the Moo-Day Brunch was their first visit to a farm. For some, it was.

But even people who aren’t engaged in farming can be part of Wisconsin’s ag industry, by seeking numerous types of off-farm jobs in agriculture-related industries, and by buying locally-produced foods.

“Wisconsin agriculture affects us all,” she said. “You don’t have to live on a farm to be part of agriculture.”