Lemke’s Family Dairy Farm Continues to Run After More Than 4 decades

Pictured (left to right): Loren Lemke, Kris Lemke, Lois Lemke, Brad Lemke, Larry Lemke, Adam Lemke and Justin Lemke. – Photo by Sara Tischauser

By Sara Tischauser

Black Creek family has kept their farming operation in the family.
Lois Lemke bought Lemke Family Farms with her husband John Lemke in May 1972.
“My husband wanted to operate a dairy farm,” Lois said about why they bought the farm on Ott Road in Black Creek.
Lois said she grew up on a dairy farm but her husband just wanted to operate a dairy farm.
She said they started their dairy farm with 17 milk cows, four bred heifers, four yearlings and 80 acres.
When they first started farming Lois said it was very different and difficult.
“It was tough because we didn’t have any modern equipment, no barn cleaner,” Lois said. “We did have milking machine, we had a bulk tank. But it was pretty tough.”
Lois said she was on the farm with the children while John worked off the farm.
“Dad worked out for 45 years so it was mom and the boys,” Loren said.
Larry and Loren Lemke, two of Lois and John’s children, stayed working on the farm after they graduated high school. After high school both Larry and Loren went to technical school for the farm program and then stayed on the farm to work.
Larry joked that him and Loren have never had “real jobs” as they have stayed working on the farm. Working on the farm is just something Larry said he liked to do.
The farm has seen many changes throughout the years.
“Every building has been remodeled here and they’ve continued to build,” Lois said.
Loren said in 1996 they started milking 76 cows three times a day and did this until 2006 when they built a freestall barn and in 2007 they started milking twice a day in a parlor.
“We came to conclusion that our bodies were going to be shot if we kept milking in the stall barn, so we were either going to switch to a parlor of some sort with a freestall or do something else,” Larry said.
The freestall barn had a capacity for 150 cows. However, the freestall barn became overcrowded and last year Larry said they added on and doubled the size of their freestall barn.
Now, Larry said they milk 340 cows twice a day.
Loren said the expansion was necessary for their cows.
“We wanted to do more for cow comfort and we changed the barn to a mechanically ventilated building,” Loren said.
Making sure the cows are comfortable is something Loren and Larry agreed is very important.
“The most important thing [is cow comfort],” Loren said. “This leads to good milk production, good reproduction and happier cows.”
Lois agreed they want to do what they can for cow comfort.
“We’ve got to have happy cows,” Lois said.
Some of the things the Lemke’s have done to add more comfort was changing to sand bedding when they built the freestall barn and last year they added tunnel ventilation.
Larry said they own/rent about 600 acres to provide enough food for their cattle.
“Everything that we grow gets run through the cows,” Larry said.
Loren agreed they try to grow as much of the food for their animals as they can, but do have to buy some of the cattle’s food.
“We buy hay from some neighbors and we buy shelled corn because we don’t have enough acres,” Loren said. “We try to grow all of our own haylage and corn silage.”
Raising their families on the farm helps keep the family close. Loren’s wife Kris helps with the bookwork and their children Zach, Tori and Reed help on the farm. Larry said his wife Teresa is a school teacher and their son Brad works on the farm. Also Adam and Justin, Larry and Loren’s nephews, work on the farm. Larry and Loren’s brother Lee helps with some of the mechanical work.
During busy times on the farm Loren said they have more help on the farm.
“We do depend on other family members and some neighbors for cropping assistance and tractor driving,” Loren said. “We depend on families and neighbors.”
Having the family working on the farm is a way to help keep the family close.
“We get to work with our kids and our nephews and our whole family,” Larry said.
While Kris did not grow up with a farm background, she now is involved with the Lemke farm and does the bookwork. She also sees the benefit the farm provides to her family.
“I like that our individual family is all together,” Kris said. “Even though he [Loren] works a lot he is near by and they [children] can go see him.”
The farm is part of what keeps the Lemke family closer than some families.
“Family wouldn’t be as close if we weren’t farming,” Adam said.
Lois who lives at the house located on the farm, likes that her family is still farming.
“I probably wouldn’t get to see the grandkids as often as I do,” Lois said if they didn’t work on the farm.
Adam, Brad and Justin said many of their friends don’t seem to understand how much work farming is. They said they have even brought their friends out to the farm to see what farm life is like.
Justin said his friends have commented that farming is a lot of work.
Adam said his friends get frustrated at times because they don’t understand the nature of farming.
“Friends don’t understand farming,” Adam said “[Friends don’t understand] that when you are a dairy farmer you don’t exactly know when you are going to be done with stuff and when you can go hang out with them.”
However, Adam said that farming is what he likes to do. He said he wakes up everyone morning and likes what he is doing.
The Lemkes said there are still some misconceptions when it comes to dairy farming.
“People don’t understand farming,” Kris said.
Adam said people think dairy farming is easy.
“You only milk twice a day and you have the rest of the day off,” Larry said is a common misconception.
Another misconception Kris said they hear is that farmers have nothing to do in the winter.
However, they all laughed that contrary to what people may think, there is always work to do on the farm.
One of the struggles with farming is that the weather can at anytime impact what farmers are doing.
Last year snowstorm Evelyn made a hard hit on many farms and the Lemkes felt some effects from the storm.
“Our roofs did not collapse, but they did start breaking up,” Loren said about the effect of snowstorm Evelyn.
Brad said him and Adam were shoveling the snow off the roof trying to prevent it from collapsing.
Since the Lemkes were working on their new barn construction at that time, they decided to just add extra reinforcements to the roof along with having to replace half of the old roof and add reinforcements to that roof.
Snowstorm Evelyn was not the only weather that impacted last year’s farming.
“Last year in general weather impacted our crops,” Loren said. “From no rain to several inches of rain to several more inches of rain, but everything turned out in the end.”
Now, with the winter weather it is just a wait and see what happens.
“Everything was okay until that melt a little while back when we had snow on the ground and then it rained and everything got covered in ice,” Larry said. “Everything is still covered in ice underneath the snow. So what impact that has nobody is going to know until it gets warm again.”
Loren said what has helped keep their farm going is to not overspend and “helps to have family do work to keep farm going.”
Lois admitted when her and John bought the farm in 1972 she didn’t think her family would still be farming all these years later.
“It will be 47 years in May [that we’ve been here],” Lois said. “It was an easy place to raise my children and they all understood what hard work was. It kept them out of trouble.”