Farm Horizons, Oct. 2018

Historic Seefeldt farm ends dairy operations in Lester Prairie

By Jan Engelhardt

The roots of the Seefeldt family go very deep in the fields of Lester Prairie. For nearly 150 years through five generations, the Seefeldts have been dairymen on the 80-acre farm along Babcock Avenue at the western edge of Lester Prairie. That long tradition came to a close Sept. 1, when current owner Paul Seefeldt ended dairy operations on the farm where he grew up.

“I’ve been in the barn since I could walk. [As a little kid] I had a couple Guernseys I’d milk by hand always,” Seefeldt said.

A chronically painful knee, coupled with the high cost of needed renovations to the dairy, forced 54-year-old Seefeldt to make the difficult decision to quit milking.

“It’s a different world now ... but, I don’t know, we just had that bred in us from young on that we was always helping ... that they were depending on you.”

The Seefeldt dairy was a Grade B operation, meaning that the milk produced was used for manufactured products, such as cheese, rather than bottled milk for drinking.

Continuing operations would have required Seefeldt to replace aging metal stanchions in the milking parlor and invest in a new barn cleaner, in addition to digging a new well on the farm.

However, current milk prices made such investments impractical.

“The price just isn’t there. I had neighbors that quit in 1995, and they were getting $15 [per one hundred pounds of raw milk], and we’re not even getting that now,” Seefeldt said, shaking his head. “I just don’t know.”

The history of the Seefeldt farm illustrates the pioneer heritage and the evolution of the dairy industry in Minnesota.

Paul’s great-great grandfather, Julius Seefeldt, homesteaded in the area, establishing the family farm in 1871. Among the early settlers around Lester Prairie, Julius was one of the founders of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church and donated the land for the church’s cemetery.

Julius was succeeded on the family’s dairy farm by his son, Henry, followed by Paul’s grandfather, Ed, and Paul’s father, Arnold, and uncle, Ervin, making Paul the fifth generation of Seefeldts to own and operate the dairy.

The original dairy barn, torn down years ago, stood to the west of the existing barn. The current building was erected in 1964, the year Paul was born, and was constructed by Paul’s uncle, who was also a carpenter.

The milking parlor contains only 20 stanchions – the number of cows that the 80-acre farm could support.

For many years, the family sold their milk to local creameries using 10- or 20-gallon galvanized metal milk cans.

When the creameries discontinued can milk, the Seefeldts installed a bulk tank in 1980. A milk hauler arrived every day to pump the milk into the tanker truck, to be delivered to a local processing plant.

Seefeldt continued to use Surge bucket milking machines operated by a compressed air system, to milk the cows.

The bucket of milk extracted from each cow was poured through a stainless-steel strainer into the refrigerated bulk tank, so the twice daily 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. milking demanded a great deal of bending, crouching, and heavy lifting.

“If I’d be 10 years younger and my knee would be good, then it would be a different story. Then I probably would have went for it yet,” Seefeldt said.

What’s next?

Although he’s ended dairy operations, Seefeldt plans to continue on the farm. He will sell most of his 20 dairy cows, keeping only a few as stock cows to raise calves and beef steers.

“I’ll still run the land ... Even with the cows, even to sell them, it’s hard to let go,” Seefeldt said. “You get so attached to them. They’re like pet dogs, when you’ve got a small herd. It’s hard to get rid of them, but all of it is business. You’ve gotta keep going.”

“I’m hoping that the hay ... I don’t know how we did it, but we made a good barn full of hay. I don’t always sneak that in with all the rain ... so, hopefully, that will be a part of my salary – selling the good hay.”

Good memories

“I’ll miss the milk haulers,” Seefeldt said. “They get to be family, almost. It’s hard seeing them go. And the cows, too. I try not to think about it, but eventually, it all ends, whatever.”

Seefeldt said he will not miss struggling with the barn cleaner in the winter.

“I was battling that all winter long. It seems like when everything stiffened up, nothing works. If you had weak links, then they’d go. So, that I will not miss.”

Seefeldt has no plans to sell his farm. He “definitely” wants ownership of the land to continue in the Seefeldt family.

“Everybody says, ‘You should sell, you know,’ which they did come already and ask, but I said, ‘Nope, not interested.’ I’d like to keep the farm. I’m hoping my nephew, Adam, takes over. He seems interested in farming. Hopefully, he can keep it going.”

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