Houston County is a hot spot for dairy and the family farm
By Diana Hammell
In these days of big corporate farming and concern over the future of the small family farm, the Houdek family, as with others like them in Houston County, create a big sigh of relief. The solid, all-work-together family dairy farm is alive and well at the Houdek’s operation. “We have a hot spot here,” Houdek explained. “Houston County has excellent dairies and such good farmers here.”
From picking rocks to
Wayne and Kris Houdek’s sons, Eric, Andy and Aaron, have always been involved in the family business from picking rocks to milking. When starting out, the boys would feed calves. After riding around in the tractors, they graduated to driving the big machines themselves. The boys took the farm safety and tractor safety courses sponsored by the University Extension. All three can artificially breed the cows and heifers now, and they help out when embryo transfers are done.
4-H and FFA
The boys, with help from their parents, have been involved in 4-H and have participated in many county and state fairs. Their involvement with FFA has taken them to other places in the U.S.
Eric and Andy were on the Minnesota State Champion FFA Dairy Evaluation team that competed in the nationals in Indianapolis, Ind. Along with teammates Carlie Krueger and Hannah Russert, they won sixth place. Eric and Andy were on the third place Dairy Evaluation team at state that then went on to Harrisburg, Pa. where they received seventh place in the national competition. Also on that team with Eric and Andy were Hannah Russert and Luke Johnson from La Crescent. Once a team has gone on to the national competition, they cannot go back, so this year Aaron Houdek, Hannah Hendel, Lauren Hendel and Justin Stemper comprise the team. They took second at the state FFA competition and will go to Harrisburg in September. Farm Bureau and other various businesses help the kids out with their travel.
County farmers participate
The county’s dairy farmers take turns opening up their dairy farms every Thursday evening to allow the 4-Hers to come and judge their cattle for practice. “They’re all very welcoming, especially considering that some farmers don’t like strange people around their cattle,” Andy said. Eric explained that it’s extra work for the farmers; they separate out four cows for the 4-Hers to place top to bottom and rank them. Then coaches judge the “judges.”
Eric just finished his freshman year at the University of Minnesota and is trying out for the judging team this fall. “I guess I like judging cattle,” Eric said. Eric is enrolled in the animal science and dairy production program at the U. He’s doing an internship with Accelerated Genetics this summer. Eric picks out the breeding selections for Houdek’s herd.
Andy will graduate from Caledonia High School in 2014 and will extend his education in an agricultural field as well. He’s interested more in the soils aspect.
Aaron, a year behind Andy in school, will also further his education in agriculture. He’s interested in cattle, specifically dairy, and loves to show and judge cows. Aaron is also the computer guru for the farm.
“All three have different niches,” Houdek said.
“If you’re efficient with all you do, you don’t have to be big,” Houdek said. “We try to get more milk production and better genetics. We milk twice each day and employ four full time plus two part time people – plus us.”
The Houdeks raise all their own heifers, 400 plus each year, and those heifers stay on their farm.
Kris works full time on the farm. “We need people to stay in the business of dairy farming,” Kris said. “It’s hard for young people to buy into the business. Feed costs are so high, as is land, animals, machinery, labor and fuel. We need to keep doing what we do and try to create more interest in dairy.” Houdeks’ Wake Up Registered Holsteins is a limited liability corporation (LLC) and if the boys would want to buy into the operation that option is open to them.
“There are jobs [in agriculture] out there, but not enough people to do them,” Eric said. “There are lots of openings if you want to work.”
Kris added that educating the populace in the nutritional value and goodness of dairy products is necessary. “It’s hard to promote dairy products, even in school. It’s such a good nutrient, but we can’t get it to them,” Kris said regarding the difficultly of placing milk machines in schools. “Some days you feel like you’re banging your head against the wall. You can’t sell raw milk, and rules make things difficult. Milk is better than what some people think, but it’s hard to educate big city people.”
The Houdeks enjoy ice cream. It’s one of their favorite dairy products besides milk. Children from Kids’ Corner daycare come out to tour the farm every year in June. “They see the cows, sit in the tractors and they love the calves,” Kris said. “Moms come too; 90 to 100 kids come and they all get an ice cream treat.”
Great place to raise kids
“The farm is a great place to raise kids,” Houdek said. “They know how to work, they work until the work is done and they take pride in what they do. Andy raises bull calves to earn extra money for himself. Eric showed a cow at the World Dairy Expo in Madison. We’re proud of the boys. They’ve accomplished a lot in a short time.”
There’s time for play too. “All three of the boys love snowmobiling and deer hunting,” Houdek said. The elder Houdeks were able to break away for a trip to Florida in the last year.
State Holstein Show
The local Holstein Club will host the Minnesota State Holstein Show in 2014 at the Houston County Fairgrounds. Hosting this week-long show is a very big deal. The fact that the state’s dairy farmers are willing to drive to a remote corner of Minnesota is a great acknowledgement that Houston County’s dairy industry is premier in the state and that its Holstein club is active and respected. “We’re hoping to show cows and do all the work that needs to be done for the show,” Kris said.