I read a fascinating column in yesterday’s Fond du Lac Reporter, entitled: “Why have farms grown so large?” It was apparently written in response to an earlier column talking about a large, 7,000-cow dairy being proposed near Ripon, Wis.

No matter which side of the political fence you’re on about large, medium-sized or small dairies, the following numbers are very interesting — credit to Bob Panzer of Badgerland Financial for the below info:

According to the University of Minnesota, it takes an average of $74,804 annually to support the average farm family. The study involved 850 farms in Minnesota and the average family size was 3.5 people.

To generate a profit of that amount, the U of M looked at farm profits and determined:

  • It would take 948 beef cows to produce a profit required to provide for the average family.
  • A total of 10,717 hogs raised from weaning to finish would be needed to earn the amount required to provide for the average farm family.
  • The average farm family would need to milk 127 dairy cows. (The U of M research determined the average dairy cow – over the past five years – has provided a profit of almost $600 annually. Some years, the profit was much lower and some years higher but on average, the magic number for profitability is apparently 127 cows).

I know what you’re thinking. Why should I care about the size of farms? Well, because the milk that goes into the cheese that we all love so much comes from the state’s dairy farms.

And, because the state’s traditional farms, like the one I grew up on, where our parents raised a few cows, a few hogs and some steers, and kids like me grew up baling hay, doing chores and generallly staying out of trouble — are no longer an option to support a family in the times in which we live.

That’s why I continue to be such a huge advocate of the state’s value-added dairy industry and our specialty and artisan cheeses. Because many of these products — whether it’s Sassy Cow Creamery bottled milk or Marieke Gouda or Caprine Supreme goat yogurt — come from average farm families trying to make a living milking animals and producing a product from the milk that comes from their farm.

No matter the size of the farm, it’s the quality of the product that matters the most to me, and Wisconsin makes some of the best value-added dairy products on the market today. There’s room here for big, medium and small farms, and we’ve got the happy cows to prove it.