Where Milk Really Comes From

Van Der Geest Maine Dairy embodies tradition while recognizing the importance of innovation. What began more than 50 years ago on just 120 acres of land in Merrill, Wisconsin, has grown into an expansive dairy operation sprawling over 6,000 acres populated by 3,000 dairy cattle. Van Der Geest is a fourth-generation, family-owned business that puts great emphasis on the importance of agriculture, sustainability and animal care.

The operation has gone through two major expansions since opening in 1969, with the most recent in 2020—adding a free-stall barn, advancing the comfort of their cattle. The new barn also features several fans that are designed to pull in fresh air and sense the temperature inside the barn to cool or heat the space accordingly. These new barn improvements are crucial in keeping the animals healthy and happy.

In addition to the new barn, Van Der Geest built a rotary parlor, a circular raised platform for the cows to stand on during the milking process. The rotary allows the herd to enter and exit the platform seamlessly as it slowly rotates in a circular motion. This form of milking puts less stress on the cattle, which aids in milk production—up to three pounds more milk per cow per day.

“Not only is the new rotary ideal and more comfortable for the cow, it is also a very efficient way to handle labor and production. Our previous milking facility was 24 years old. It’s an improvement we had to execute, not only for our cattle, but to keep up with the latest industry standards,” said dairy co-owner Lee Van Der Geest.

CoBank played an integral role in making the new barn and rotary a reality for Van Der Geest, financing the project through its wholly-owned subsidiary, Farm Credit Leasing. The lease helped Van Der Geest with various payment options and also allowed it to write off the payments, which was an important factor to consider for its tax plan.

Ultimately, Van Der Geest hopes to promote its product, while teaching consumers where milk really comes from. He also wants to continue growing their business for the next generation.

“We are a family farm striving to produce milk in the most profitable, economic and animal-friendly way possible. We want to teach people that milk doesn’t just come from a shelf at the grocery store. We want the consumer to know how the milk is produced. During my dad’s first farm expansion, he had the idea to build a viewing area to enable visitors to actually see the milking process. To honor this idea during the recent expansion, we also constructed a viewing room so that we could continue to educate visitors on the latest technology,” Van Der Geest said.

“My great-grandfather was in the cattle business and my partner, Jason’s family was in the dairy business. We hope to carry on these traditions and passions to our kids and future generations to come.”

This story was originally published in the CoBank 2022 Annual Report.