NEWTON — Grotegut Dairy Farm continues to embrace its newfound role as a representative of Wisconsin’s agricultural industry.
Since the Farm Wisconsin Discovery Center opened in Manitowoc County five months ago, thousands of people have toured the nearby operation as part of the center’s admission.
Tour buses board at the center and visit the farm four times daily, following a designated route that includes a trip through the free-stall barn, where the herd of Holsteins curiously observes the group of equally curious people. For many visitors, it’s their first experience on a dairy farm.
“We’re just trying to do our part to help educate the general public on farming and show them what we are all about,” said Doug Grotegut, a third-generation farmer. “So far everything seems to be going pretty well. We’ve heard good things and we’re glad to have people coming.”
Guests watch an on-bus video, narrated by Grotegut family members, that aligns with their location on the farm during the tour. The family’s primary operators are Doug and his brother, Dave, as well as Dave’s children, Ashley and Eric, and Doug’s son, Kip. The farm employs 20 full- and part-time milking technicians and another 30 employees.
Visitors, including more than 1,500 students in school groups, learn additional facts and figures regarding the farm and Wisconsin’s dairy industry. Among them: Grotegut Dairy Farm produces enough milk each year to make 7 million pounds of cheese; about 90 percent of Wisconsin milk is made into cheese; and the average American annually consumes more than 35 pounds of cheese, 20 pounds of ice cream and 5.6 pounds of butter.
Doug said the tour shows “how a Wisconsin dairy farm operates and how we work to provide you with the healthy, delicious dairy products Wisconsin is known for.”
Added Doug’s niece, Ashley: “The dairy men and women of Grotegut Dairy Farm are committed to producing high-quality milk, and that begins with taking good care of our cows. A healthy, comfortable, content cow gives a lot of milk.”
Doug and Dave’s grandparents farmed nearby for many years. Their parents, Ival and Dorothy Grotegut, began farming the current property in 1965 with 51 cows.
The size and scope of the operation increased exponentially over the years.
Today, the farm’s herd of 2,700 milking cows is composed primarily of black and white Holsteins, with a handful of red and white Holsteins and crossbreeds mixed in. The Groteguts also have 2,400 heifers. Cows are milked three times daily on the 80-stall Dairymaster rotary parlor, which was installed in 2011.
The cross-ventilation, free-stall barn stands 250 feet wide and stretches 1,480 feet long. Overall, the family operates about 3,000 owned and rented acres of land.
Doug said Grotegut Dairy Farm and many other like it throughout Wisconsin are committed to sustainable agriculture. He noted the first of two anaerobic digesters on the property was installed in 2008. In addition, the farm regularly recycles plastic, he said, pointing out that 20 million pounds of agricultural plastic was recycled by Wisconsin farmers in 2017.
“Farmers are definitely dedicated to protecting our natural resources, and recycling agricultural plastic is one example of that,” Doug said.
Grotegut Dairy Farm also is instrumental to the experience back at the Farm Wisconsin Discovery Center facility. The farm averages about 12 births per day, some of which occur live at the center’s Land O’Lakes Birthing Barn for visitors to watch.
About 150 calves from Grotegut Dairy Farm have been born at Farm Wisconsin Discovery Center. The 100th arrived on Halloween and was affectionately named Boo.
“It all goes back to educating people on our mission,” said Angel Johanek, the center’s director of marketing and development. “We want to educate visitors about Wisconsin agriculture and let them know how farmers produce fiber, fuel and food and how they do it sustainably, humanely and safely.
“We have different ways to do that — the birthing barn, the farm tour, all the exhibits upstairs, the programs. We’re bringing all those pieces together and educating people through those pieces.”
The Farm Wisconsin Discovery Center features 15,000 square feet of interactive, educational exhibits at its $13 million facility. The center, five miles south of Manitowoc at 7001 Gass Lake Road, is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily.
For more information about the center and farm tours, visit www.farm wisconsin.org.