PENNOCK - Nearly two years to the day that a ferocious storm ripped apart barns at the Carlson Dairy farm - injuring cattle and throwing the fourth-generation family farmers into an expansive renovation project - the family is hosting the 2019 Kandiyohi County Dairy Days celebration June 15 at their farm near Pennock.
Much has changed since that storm, including construction of new barns and installation of the newest robotic rotary milking technology available that put Carlson Dairy LLP on the map as being the fifth farm in North America to use this type of system.
Another change that happened after the storm is a new appreciation for their community and the numerous volunteers who stuck by their side during the clean-up and long process to rebuild the farm, which is owned by brothers Chad and Carl Carlson, their wives, Kindra and Kellie, and parents Curtney and Louise.
"It definitely humbled all of us," said Carl. "We're a do-it-yourself type of people where we don't expect people to help us."
But after realizing that the damage from the June 11, 2017, storm was bigger than what they alone could handle, they called a couple people they knew. Within a couple hours "hundreds of people" were at the farm picking up debris, loading cattle to move to different farms and bringing food for volunteers to eat, said Carl.
"It was an eye-opener to see so many people step up and be willing to help," said Chad. "We're really thankful and grateful for all the people that helped and got us so we could keep milking cows and doing our regular day-to-day stuff on top of the cleanup and all that stuff. It was just really, really nice to see all the people there."
Volunteers helped with clean-up, a dairy farm in southern Minnesota fed, bred and milked 300 of their cows for several months and contractors have been onsite for nearly two years completing construction or making repairs on the barns.
Chad said he remembers the day of the storm, when he was in the barns feeding cows and he heard the winds ripping off the roof.
"The storm came over the barn and I said, 'Well, I guess I know what we're going to be doing Monday and Tuesday - fixing the roof.' Well, Monday and Tuesday turned into two years," he said.
Despite the chaos the storm created, Chad and Carl said there was a silver lining to the storm.
The family had been thinking about installing a robotic dairy parlor and the two brothers had toured a farm in Canada that was using the system.
Having the barns ripped apart in the storm forced them to decide whether to make repairs and continue with their old system or begin new construction and a new way of milking.
"It forces your hand into doing things you're questioning or wondering if you should do. It kind of made us just do it," said Carl.
The storm "kick-started" the project and "put things into high gear," said Chad.
In June of last year the Carlson's started using the fully-robotic dairy parlor. The 60-stall GEA Dairy ProQ milking system incorporates computers that read the identification tag on each cow as they step onto the slowly rotating platform. The system remembers the basics of each cow's udder and the mechanical milking units move to attach to the cow's teats. The computers also record information, like how much milk each cow produces.
The moving parlor completes its rotation every 7 to nine minutes and the system is able to milk 270 cows per hour.
The robotic system still requires someone to be in the parlor as the 1,800 cows are milked three to four times a day, but the technology resulted in a reduction in staff of about 30 to 40 percent. The farm currently has about 20 employees.
Rebuilding the barns with a new design helped them realize it's more efficient to do the work now than it was in the past.
The big picture
The storm had one more powerful impact for the Carlsons.
It changed how Chad and Carl view their life and work on the farm, which has been in the Carlson family since 1891.
"We look at the big picture differently. We don't fret about the little things," Carl said.
He said they also respect their employees more and know they are "invested in this as well and they're willing to do what needs to be done."
Hosting the Dairy Days event at their farm gives them the opportunity to show people what a "progressive dairy is and how well we take care of our animals," said Carl.
"It's nice to educate people on what goes on out here and show them that we love our animals and we do what's best for them," he said. "If we didn't, we wouldn't be in business anymore because if you don't treat them right they're not going to produce for you."
The event also gives his family the opportunity to thank the community for their support and to celebrate how far the family farm has come in two years.
"After two years ago, to be where we are today and milking cows in a new rotary and having our buildings all fixed up again, it's kind of nice and we're trying to use it, too, as an appreciation," said Chad.
"We want to show everybody how appreciative we are for the help we had and just getting us back up and going. It's just good. So it's going to be kind of a celebration," he said.
35 years of a 'real' celebration
Schedule of events
Thursday-Friday, June 6-7
Build-A-Burger - 10:30 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Promotion at Cash Wise: Cheeseburger, milk and cookie, ice cream sandwiches also for sale; funds raised support local FFA chapters and 4-H clubs and to promote the dairy and beef industries.
Tuesday, June 11
Cow Stories - 10 a.m.
Willmar Public Library, family story hour with the Kandiyohi County Dairy Princesses reading stories and serving ice cream; no registration necessary.
Saturday, June 15
Dairy Farm Open House - 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Carlson Dairy, 4970 120th St. N.W.; take U.S. Highway 12 west through Pennock for about a mile, turn north on 120th St. and the barns will be on the right.
Monday, June 17
Ice cream social - 7:30 p.m.
Ice cream social, Willmar Community Activity Center; performance by West Central Chorus.
Wednesday, June 19
Prairie Winds Band Concert - 7 p.m.
Robbins Island; meet the dairy royalty before the concert; bring your own lawn chairs.
Friday, June 28
Dairy cattle show - 10:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Open to the public at the Kandiyohi County Fairgrounds; no admission fee.