For today’s Sunday Dinner, I invited Gail Klinkner, a dairy farmer, National Dairy FARM Program Evaluator, board advisor to Dairy Management, Inc (DMI) representing Wisconsin, and a member of the Dairy Farmers of Wisconsin Board of Directors.
Sunday Dinner is a traditional (noon) meal served after church on Sundays. Whole families, including extended family, would gather over a large meal to celebrate a day of rest. Multiple cultures enjoy this Sunday Dinner tradition. In my experience, I know it from both my Midwestern farm family as well as my Italian-American family. Now, I’d like to bring Sunday Dinner virtually to you. So, pull up a chair as we invite various guests to join us each week!
Without further ado, please introduce yourself and tell us something interesting readers would enjoy learning about you.
Gail Klinkner, I am a Wisconsin Dairy Farmer and National Dairy FARM Program Evaluator. I enjoy working with Dairy Farmers to share their dairy farming practices and ensure that they are responsibly caring for their animals. I also enjoy supporting my local farmers by serving on the Dairy Farmers of Wisconsin Board of Directors as well as being a board advisor to Dairy Management, Inc (DMI) representing Wisconsin.
I understand you own a dairy farm … can you give us a little of your background?
I grew up on a dairy farm near Westby, Wisconsin and enjoyed being active in 4-H, FFA, and the Jr Holstein Association. I spent summers exhibiting dairy cattle at local, district, and state shows including the WI State Fair.
How many cows do you have? What breed were they? Do you have other animals as well?
Our dairy farm consists of 55 Registered Holsteins and Jerseys, which means that they are purebred and we keep track of their pedigrees. We also have a small flock of sheep and a few pigs that the kids enjoy showing at the Vernon County fair.
Is yours an independently owned farm? What sets your farm apart from other dairy farms?
Our dairy farm is 100% owned by our family. What makes our dairy different is that my husband is a 1st generation farmer, he grew up in town and always enjoyed helping at his family and neighbors farms. He started by securing financing for our original herd of dairy cows and began dairying on a rental farm. 3 years later, we purchased our current farm and have done our best to continue to buy land and machinery as we were able to be as self-sufficient, (being able to grow feed for our animals) as possible. I am a 3rd generation dairy farmer and brought my love of Holsteins and showing to the operation when we were married.
What is your role on your farm? What about your partner/spouse? Do you hire additional workers?
Our farm is 100% family run. My husband and I share daily chore responsibilities including milking, feeding, cleaning, and animal health. I also work part time off of the farm, so my children are very important to the success of our dairy also helping with daily responsibilities.
What does a day in the life of a dairy farmer look like?
Our day starts with heading out to the barn, checking on all the animals and milking the cows. In good weather, the cows are let out of the barn to the pasture for the day. While they are out, we clean and prepare their feedings for the day and evening. Throughout the day tasks are completed that may include working in the fields or cleaning or fixing around the farmstead. In the evening, they cows are milked for a second time and all the animals are checked on again before going in for the night.
Can you tell us more about the business side of farming?
The easiest way to describe the business side of farming is that it is just that, a business. Just like any other small (or large) business, there are variable income and expenses that occur each day. What makes dairy farming unique, is that we have little control of our income. We ride the wave of the markets. Milk price may go up, but expenses may go up as much or more. Likewise, the opposite can happen with no notice. I feel that you need to have a good understanding of your expenses and control what you can to be successful in a volatile business environment.
Do you work outside of the dairy farm? Or have a side business?
Yes, I work part time for the Westby Cooperative Creamery as a National Dairy FARM Program Evaluator and well as part time for my county as a Correctional Officer.
Further, we opened a on-farm store, Klinkner Kountry Store, in May of 2020 as a way to market our farm’s beef and pork. We also sell a selection of Westby Creamery Cheeses and country décor and gifts.
What are some of the challenges you face as a dairy farmer?
Balance is always a challenge as a dairy farmer. We raise our children here and while we feel that there is no better way to raise children, there is always work to be done. Finding that time to spend with the kids that is not farm related can be a challenge and to that I would add, finding someone to care for the farm so that we can be away, is always difficult.
What do you wish non-dairy farmers knew about dairy farming?
My greatest wish is that non-dairy farmers understood the care that goes into producing the milk and meats that they enjoy. There isn’t a farmer that is in business to get rich, that’s just not reality. We farm because we care about the land and animals. We enjoy seeing a new born calf, or a cow developing into something special. They have personalities. Just as many people enjoy their dogs and cats, we enjoy each one of our dairy animals the same. They just weigh 1500# or more! With the good days, comes the bad days and we shed tears too.
How important is it for dairy owners to stay abreast of new knowledge and information about the industry? Why?
The world is fast paced, and just as in many other industries, dairy farmers need to stay aware of new technologies, new rules and efforts to continue to make their farms more sustainable. It is amazing the advancements that have been made in the industry! Many of the new technologies have been developed just for the reasons listed above. We need to implement what will work on our dairies to remain in business. Further, changes to rules or laws need to have farmer’s inputs to continue to be fare and obtainable. Dairy Farming has a large impact in local communities by not only providing a nutritious product, but providing jobs, and supporting many other businesses.
What is your fondest memory or favorite part of being a dairy farmer?
My fondest memories as a dairy farmer always focus on the cows. I remember being very young and waiting (impatiently) for my first cow to have her first calf. Those days were so exciting to me. I couldn’t wait to find out if the calf was male or female and what it would look like! Yes, that first one was born in the middle of the night, I was 9 and there for the entire process! She looked just like her mother and I was hooked!
As I have grown, I spent a lot of time in the show ring and enjoy winning a few times and those memories are also special, but even more special are the friends made along the way that are still an important part of my life.
The afternoon is slipping away, so we have to draw the stories to an end. Dawn, thank you for joining us and sharing your knowledge, experience, and love of dairy farming. If you would like to know more, Dawn suggests reaching out to the Dairy Farmers of Wisconsin. They have a lot of great information on their website and can even put you in contact with a dairy farmer (Gail included).
Over Sunday Dinner next week historical romance author Crystal Caudill will be here to talk about her novel Counterfeit Love.