The sixth generation of the family keeps the dairy busy
Kristine M. Kierzek
As the sixth generation to help run Farms at sunset in Allenton, Karen Hughes can look at her own family history and tell you how The landscape of Wisconsin dairy farms has changed.
Yet the goal of every dairy farmer remains the same, to take care of the animals and the land to produce good milk every day.
Hughes, a married mother of three children aged 12, 10 and 5, is the herd manager and co-owner of Sunset Farms. His dairy’s milk is found in products ranging from cottage cheese to RumChata, although by far his favorite is ice cream.
She grew up working with her grandfather, father and uncles on the Washington County farm. She never wanted to do anything else. Now she’s starting to think about the next generation. This summer, her daughter, Haley, entered her first heifer at the Washington County Fair and took first place in her class.
In honor of National Farmers’ Day on October 12, Hughes spoke to us about farming, family and how creating a “milk bar” for a party will forever be a favorite memory. .
A family farm
There are 10 of us who own the farm. It’s my father and two brothers, and I have myself, my husband and three cousins, and then we have two employees who have been with us since high school and they also became owners.
In 1846 my great-great-uncle came from Germany and settled in the region. He made his brother and his family settle down. So in 1847 most of the family came from Germany.
My father and his three brothers, they all grew up on the farm. As they got married, they built or bought houses and were neighbors to the farm. We are six generations.
I was born in the 80’s and the four brothers always wanted to continue cultivating. They knew they couldn’t do this on Grandpa’s only farm. In the 60s they bought a neighbor’s farm, then they bought a third farm, and in the 70s they decided it was a lot of work. â€¦ They decided to build a new facility on the original farm. They built a living room, a new concept in the 1970s. Grandpa wanted them to be able to continue farming together. It made hard work easier.
My role is a herd manager. I focus on the care of the cows. I walk the cows, I take care of the cows. This is my role. That’s all I do. I don’t have to worry about fieldwork or maintenance. My cousins â€‹â€‹take care of it. There’s a guy who works with us and owns the farm, he’s been with us since high school. He takes care of the young cattle. We all specialize in what we’re good at and we help each other.
Dairy science guides decisions
Right now we are treating 1,150 cows. In the 1970s, they grew to 200 cows, and in the 1990s, to 400 cows. Then in 2001 we built an additional barn and grew to 600 cows. I went to UW-River Falls for Dairy Science and graduated in 2006, and in 2009 we expanded one of the barns. â€¦ We are always trying to improve what we do. It’s about making a better dairy product, which means keeping the cows healthy and the land healthy.
What most people don’t think about
The land part and sustainability. There is a photo of my husband working in the field. It has a portable tester for testing humidity and things. We take care of the earth in order to obtain good nourishment, but also to preserve it for the next 150 years.
By the numbers
On the farm, we measure milk in pounds. We ship over 110,000 books a day.
At present, we do not process the milk ourselves. We are a member of a cooperative, DFA (Dairy Farmers of America). They take care of collecting our milk every day and delivering it to the processing plants.
People ask how can we support you directly? Just buy dairy products and you support us because milk is used for so many things.
In 2021, the committee transformed the traditional dairy breakfast into a â€œdairy destinationâ€. In June, we weren’t ready to have a farm sit-down breakfast. We have had the June Dairy Month Breakfast three more times, in 1998, 2008 and 2013. We would have four to five thousand people for breakfast. A different farm welcomes each year.
We have decided to remove the breakfast portion this year. The committee has set up a â€œDairy Dream Boxâ€ and drive-thru. People got a gallon of chocolate milk, coupons for ice cream, a packet of cheese spread, cheese spread, sour cream, a brick of cream cheese and a brick of another type of cheese. The drive-thru was fun. I created a sound they could listen to on their phones as they walked through the farm, barn, and feed alley and they could see where the cows lived. We hope to do it again, but bring back breakfast.
What she wants you to know
All milk is antibiotic free, not just those labeled this way. We test our milk three times before it’s in the bottle.
Pleasure of flavors
I flavored milk for my sister-in-law’s baby shower. We had a milk bar with seven different kinds of milk. I made mocha milk. I used coffee, cream, and a few other things. Then a plain white, chocolate, a banana cream, a peach and a strawberry. Another was s’mores with a hint of graham crackers and marshmallows. Milk is so perishable that it’s hard (for retailers) to stock all the different flavors, so it was a cool thing to do for a party.
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