June 30, 2011

Breakfast on the farm attracts record-setting crowd

Find the original story written by John Oncken on the Wisconsin State Farmer website.

The line of cars coming from the south was long – maybe three miles long – and barely moving and the parking lot, a newly mowed hayfield, had five or six long lines of vehicles parked side by side.

It was apparent that the Fond du Lac County Breakfast on the Farm at Rosendale Dairy was attracting a record crowd.

It may go down as the largest record crowd ever in the 41-year history of June Dairy farm breakfasts. Although no one keeps such records, the only one that comes close might be the Brown County Breakfast at Gold Dust Dairy when it was in its heyday a decade or more ago, where an estimated 8,000 folks attended.

When all were fed and done at 2:30 p.m. on that weather-perfect Sunday, June 26, the Fond du Lac Agri-Business Council estimated that 10,000 visitors had attended at Wisconsin’s biggest dairy farm. They figured that about 7,000 had eaten eggs, watermelon and doughnut holes – the rest came just to look.

Brenda Gudex, of the Fond du Lac Agri-Business Council that sponsored the event, admits they had no idea how many folks would come. Normally, the crowd ran 2,000 to 3,000 but the council knew that Rosendale Dairy would be a special attraction because of its sheer size, 8,000 cows, and two 80-cow rotary parlors.

So they raised their estimates to 5,000, then 6,000 people and ordered 50 pails containing 30 dozen eggs each for the omelet main course. At the last minute, the committee ordered and cracked by hand another 280 dozen eggs. “We had some eggs left over,” Gudex says. “We donated them to local food pantries.”

Needless to say, the two food lines were long, an hour and a half wait long some said. But no one seemed in a hurry and enjoyed their breakfast in the huge airy tent or on the grass lawn stretching along County Road M.

Then it was on to the exhibits, barns and ice-cream sundaes.

The lines to the upstairs milking parlor viewing room were long and constant as people patiently waited for a look at the 80-cow rotary milking parlors. Many looked with awe at the huge tractors and farm equipment on display. They visited the tent where Foremost Farms USA representatives Joe Weiss and Mike O’Brien were answering questions about dairy cow health and milk quality.

A big attraction for youngsters was the chance to use a stethoscope and hear the heart beat of a 2-day-old calf.

Many took the opportunity to ride a bus through one of the quarter-mile-long freestall dairy barns and see the cows at work – eating and sleeping. The more ambitious walked for a closer look.

Why did so many take a Sunday to visit a dairy farm?

Most said they were curious. They had heard about Rosendale Dairy for a long time and wanted to see it for themselves.

“I just can’t believe it,” was the common answer. “I wanted to see it.”

“I just don’t know how they manage such a big operation,” was also a popular answer. “I’d never see it otherwise.”

“Where did they get the money to build this?” many asked. “I didn’t think there was that much money in all of Wisconsin dairying,” a nonfarmer from Fond du Lac opined.

“I was born on a dairy farm and milked cows, but I’ve never seen anything like this,” a grizzled former farmer said. “Times sure have changed and I think for the better, my knees are shot from milking in a stanchion barn.”

There didn’t seem to be anyone who had objections to the big dairy; although, there was considerable controversy about it during the planning and building stages.

The three owners – Todd Willer, Jim Ostrom and John Vosters – and their families mingled with the crowd and answered a lot of questions. Ostrom was parading a red Holstein through the crowd at one point.

Whatever the final crowd count was, the Breakfast on the Farm was fun for all and as many said, “I learned so much about dairying. I’m glad I came.”