At an eastern Kansas dairy farm, visitors gush over baby calves, witness the milk bottling process and sample root beer milk that tastes like the delightful aftermath of a root beer float.
The brand defined by Hildebrand Farms Dairy proves as unique as the vintage glass bottles that hold its milk, a nod to the farm’s first generation.
“What we do is very unique,” says Melissa Hildebrand-Reed, plant and marketing manager of the farm near Junction City, “and the fact that so many family members are able to work together is what sets us apart. Working with family can be complicated and challenging, but it’s very rewarding at the same time.”
Seven family members who represent the farm’s third and fourth generations work full time in the business. The farm also employs 15 additional full-time employees with just 150 cows milking at a time, a farm size that typically supports closer to two households. The farm defies the odds as it bottles its own milk on-site, sells farm- and Kansas-grown products from its on-farm store, and offers farm tours and experiences. They produce a dozen fluid milk and butter products that earn a premium at 120 grocery stores across Kansas, where dairy is on the rise.
Hildebrand Farms Dairy represents one of the state’s 290 dairy farms pumping up the dairy presence in Kansas, according to the Kansas Livestock Association. A combination of new, long-time and expanding Kansas dairy farms today produce 52 percent more milk than 10 years ago, according to the National Agricultural Statistics Service. As of January 2017, 150,000 dairy cows called the state home, up from 115,000 in 2007.
“I have to give all the credit for what we have here to my dad, Alan, and uncle, Dave,” Hildebrand-Reed says. “They are the innovators who wanted to expand and grow this for the next generation.”
Now, the fifth generation grows up on the farm.
Keeping Up with the Times
Great-grandfather Arnold Hildebrand bought four cows and began to sell glass bottles of milk door to door in Junction City in 1930. Generations of Hildebrands since have added buildings, adopted new technologies and established on-site processing to sustain the business and support more households.
My family works constantly to increase its distribution area in Kansas. They partner with K-State Research and Extension specialists to improve their breeding program, a significant component to improve milk quality and quantity. And the family hopes to add robotic milkers in the next five years to replace some or all of their vacuum milk machines.
Hildebrand-Reed knows a handful of Kansas farmers who already have purchased robotic milkers. Such a contraption would improve productivity and expand the family’s educational outreach efforts to consumers through on-farm experiences.
“We’ve been able to explain how much business, science and biology goes into farming with livestock,” Hildebrand-Reed says. “We really try to educate as much as we can, which is a big part of our marketing and brand.”
Comfortable Cows, More Milk
The Hildebrand family dedicates three employees to herd health. Clean bedding, access to grass and cooling misters for hot days keep cows comfortable. Meanwhile, a nutritionally specific diet, which includes feedstuffs and grains grown on the farm, keeps their cows healthy.
“Herd health and animal well- being are a top priority,” Hildebrand-Reed says. “We’re always reading publications and seeing what the latest research is saying, particularly with cow comfort in the summertime. When the cows are doing well, the milk production shows.”