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By LeAnn R. Ralph
COLFAX — Karl Kragness comes from a long line of dairy farmers — four generations of dairy farmers, in fact.
The Kragness family’s history in dairy farming is one of the reasons Karl Kragness, co-owner of Denmark Dairy south of Colfax, agreed to host the 12th annual Farm City Day on Saturday, September 7.
“It’s challenging for a working farm to host this two-day event,” said Katie Wantoch, UW-Extension associate professor and agriculture agent specializing in economic development.
Elementary school students from around Dunn County, including Colfax and Elk Mound, visited Denmark Dairy on Friday, September 6, and then on Saturday, the farm was open to the general public.
All together, 550 school children visited the farm, and Wantoch said another 1,000 to 1,500 people were expected to visit on Saturday.
“You want to give (visitors) all the facets of farming,” said Wantoch, who noted that beekeepers, master gardeners and FFA students also were at the event.
Denmark Dairy provided a good example of the modern machinery and the technology used in farming today, she said.
“Even if they are one generation removed (from farming), it’s amazing how many advances can happen with the technology,” Wantoch said.
Karl, who operates the farm with his wife, Mandy, their daughter, Olivia, and his parents, Dennis and Mary Kragness, viewed hosting Farm City Day “as an opportunity for us to be able to give back to the community.”
On Friday, “we had the kids come here to go around on the wagons and see the farm to get a lot of education with different stations set up about agriculture,” Kragness explained.
“I think this is something we took for granted being able to grow up on our farms or going to the neighbor’s farm. The young kids don’t have that opportunity any more. For us to be able to offer that to the younger generations, and then (on Saturday) with a mixture of all ages is something we’re proud and honored to do,” he said.
Denmark Dairy had “stations” set up in the milking parlor on Friday, so the elementary students were able to go into the milking parlor to see the dairy operation first-hand.
On Saturday, visitors were able to see the milking parlor through viewing windows as well as go on a wagon ride around the farm to see the feed pads, the barns, the sand separation building and to walk through the barns and see the cows in their deep-bedded free stalls.
The tour guides at Farm City Day were selected specifically for their knowledge about dairy farming and their familiarity with the operation at Denmark Dairy, Kragness noted.
The last stop on the tour was the “transition barn” where visitors could potentially watch a calf being born.
“Our industry is changing daily. Soil health. Water quality … it’s an opportunity for people to come out and really see the direction this industry is moving, and the importance we play in a lot of roles in agriculture,” Kragness said.
“There’s a lot of history in this family. It runs deep. And it shows at times like this when you can get people to come out here and show appreciation for everything we are doing,” he said.
Denmark Dairy employs about 40 people.
“There’s always something going on. It’s always busy, and it takes a lot of good people,” Kragness said, adding he wanted to express how much he appreciates “all of our employees who have worked endless hours to put this together.”
In fact, Kragness and two of his employees were out fixing a manure pump at midnight on Thursday.
“We couldn’t even scrape some of our pens. We had to do it at midnight. And we were back here at four in the morning to start to get ready for the kids (on Friday),” he said.
“There are so many things people are seeing out here that are related to agriculture that people probably don’t think about on a daily basis,” Kragness said.
“It goes way beyond milking the cows. There’s soil quality. Nutrient management plans that go into our operations. The nutritional work that goes into it. The hoof trimmers. The vets,” he said.
“This is the best thing we can do is offer this to the community, to come out here and bring their families … I feel honored to be the host. It’s things we take for granted that we see daily,” Kragness said.
Even though Saturday, September 7, was cool, cloudy, and at times, a misty day, children were clearly happy to be on the farm and waiting for the next wagon ride.
“To see these young kids running around and opening their eyes. They’re excited to hop on these wagons. You can’t replace that. I’m hoping that a lot of the young ones are ones who were here (the day before) and (brought) their parents over here today,” Kragness said.
Karl, Mandy and Olivia are the fourth generation of the Kragness family to be in dairy farming.
The name Denmark Dairy comes from Karl’s mom and dad — Den(nis) (and) Mar(y) K(ragness) — Denmark.
“For me to read the paper and see my Great-grandpa Anton’s name. That right there is an accomplishment, to go back that far in history. This would have never been a possibility without my great-grandpa that I never met. The older you get, the more you appreciate that,” Kragness said.
“There is a picture of my Grandpa Lloyd bent over in the stall barn, milking cows, and whenever I have a rough day, I go in the office and look at that picture. They had some rough days, too,” he said.
In addition to appreciating his employees, Kragness says he has great appreciation for all of the women in the Kragness family.
“We wouldn’t be where we are at without the women in our lives,” he said.
And Kragness says it is young people like his daughter, Olivia, who will carry on the tradition and the legacy of dairy farming.
“To be able to see my daughter taking a lot of pride in being out at the farm and showing her friends, that means a lot to me,” Kragness said.
“Through the years of farming, the women have been the forgotten ones. They always put the food on the table,” he said.
Women often milked the cows, too, and drove tractors, baled and unloaded hay — and sometimes went off the farm in search of a part when a particular piece of machinery went down.
“Things have changed,” Kragness said. “I do most of the cooking at home. My wife works in the Cities three days a week, and then driving home and doing the bookwork two days a week. We’re always busy. It’s stressful at times. But there’s a lot of appreciation for that from me.”
Karl says that he and his dad, Dennis, “have found a way to farm together.”
“We both have our own areas. I’m better in some areas than he is, and he’s better in some areas than I am. We put that together, and we make a good team. You can’t put a price on having your parents always there. Sometimes it doesn’t have anything to do with the farm. It’s the moral support,” he said.
Kragness appreciates the support of their neighbors, too, Twylia and Phillip Rose.
“We have rented their farm for 20 years. They are distant relation to us, but they really are like family,” he said.
Kragness said he has enjoyed being able to visit with Mr. and Mrs. Rose and to hear their stories about growing up and their life on the farm.
“My experience has been that when you’re younger, you don’t care about that stuff. And then when you start to care, the older people aren’t around to ask anymore,” he said.
“As farmers, we find ourselves spending a lot of time talking about things we don’t have control over. The weather. The price of milk. I try to put a focus, an emphasis, on the things we do have control over. It’s critical,” Kragness said.
“With this many animals and this many employees, we wake up every day to fix problems. We are continually trying to improve and make things better. People talk to me about the price of milk, but I don’t spend a whole lot of time thinking about the price of milk. It’s out of our control. We just need to do the best we can in the areas we do have control over,” he said.
Denmark Dairy purchased a farm near Ridgeland in June of this year for first-lactation cows.
“We bought it from a great family … We are using the two together to utilize our management and make it the most efficient we possibly can,” Kragness said.
“Between the two, we are milking around 2,400 animals — 1,600 here along with 400 other dry cows and pre-fresh heifers and 800 first-lactation animals mixed with some that were second-plus lactation from the herd we bought,” he said.
“It’s a lot of work, but there’s a lot of opportunity that comes with it. I have high hopes for this industry … it’s changing all the time,” Kragness said.
“It’s not an easy industry. And it’s a dangerous industry. You drive around our farm, and you see caution signs around the feed pile, and caution signs by our lagoons. As we’ve grown, it’s an area I feel we need to get better in. My goal is to never have a death on our farm. Safety needs to be a focus. You get more employees, and more equipment moving around, you have to focus more on safety and training,” he said.
Kragness says he sees many opportunities for young people interested in agriculture.
“There are (fewer) farms out there, and we need to be able to educate young people who have an interest in our industry,” he said.