Dairy Day highlights organic farmJon and Tracy Tepoel have a story to tell. It’s not a story told on pamphlets handed out by People of the Ethical Treatment of Animals, or breaking news reports.
By: Maria Lockwood, Superior Telegram
Jon and Tracy Tepoel have a story to tell.
It’s not a story told on pamphlets handed out by People of the Ethical Treatment of Animals, or breaking news reports.
“What PETA’s trying to put out there is all farmers are bad,” said Jon Tepoel.
“And that’s just not true,” said his wife, Tracy.
The couple is opening their organic dairy farm to the community Saturday to give folks a fresh perspective. From 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., everyone is invited to drop by for free food and a glimpse of Douglas County’s biggest dairy farm. Visitors can view 10 antique Oliver tractors, pet the calves, meet Stella the border collie and watch a portion of the 100-head herd graze.
“There are more and more people every day who are not exposed to dairy operations and farming,” said Verne Gilles, president of the Chequamegon Dairy Association. “I think it’s good for them to get out and see people running a clean operation.”
Every year, the association sets up a “Dairy Day on the Farm” to provide that link. Usually, the free family-friendly event takes place at a farm in Ashland or Bayfield County. Saturday, for the first time in more than 15 years, it is taking place in Douglas County.
“I suspect that the Dairy Days in Douglas County this year will be the furthest north event in the state,” said Jane Anklam, horticulture and agriculture educator with University of Wisconsin-Extension. “We can be proud of our dairy farmers who manage in a very special climate here.”
Along with cool northern climate and heavily forested land, farmers deal with capricious weather and natural predators such as wolves and bears.
The Tepoel farm is one of the dozen dairy operations in the county today. Of those, Anklam said, half are organic. While that may be a buzzword today, the Tepoels chose the organic route back in 1982, long before it was “cool.”
Doing away with antibiotics and giving the cattle room to roam greatly improved herd health, Jon Tepoel said. Cows are smarter than many people give them credit for, he said, and they pick the outdoors when they have a choice. Once the farmer opened the barn doors he saw cases of mastitis as well as hoof and feet problems fade away.
“The vet doesn’t come here anymore,” Tepoel said.
By rotating crops and using natural additives like manure and lime, the land has become more productive. Letting nature take care of itself is the key.
“Once you get it, it’s easy,” he said.
The move to organic also stabilized the family’s income. The Tepoels sell their milk for a fixed annual price to Organic Valley, a cooperative of farmers based in southwestern Wisconsin. Trucks stop by every other day to pick up the milk.
“It’s a smaller yield, but it’s a much better product,” Tracy Tepoel said. The couple also worked to bring other local farmers into the Organic Valley co-op, including Martin Botten in South Range and Colby Dairy in Maple.
The Tepoel family has deep dairy roots, tracing their farming heritage all the way back to Holland and France. Jon Tepoel’s father farmed the land before he took over operations 21 years ago. There are no hobby farm trappings at their Maple site — pigs, chickens or other food animals. The 900-acre farm is devoted to dairy, with 100 milking cows and a young crop of calves.
“If you do one thing and to it well, you won’t need to do anything else,” Jon TePpoel said.
A request from Anklam and a PETA pamphlet slipped into Tracy Tepoel’s hand encouraged to the couple open their dairy to the public for Dairy Day. Such groups have their place in protecting animals, the couple said.
“At the same time you need to know about real farms, too,” Tracy Tepoel said.
The annual event usually draws a crowd of up to 1,000 people for food, fun and a better understanding of today’s farms. The location isn’t the only thing that makes this year’s Diary Day special, Gilles said. This will be the first time the event has taken place on an organic farm. These farmers have a story they want to share. And they want to get the word out that dairy production is still part of Douglas County’s farm fabric.
“It’s still here,” Jon Tepoel said.
TePoel Dairy is located at 11652 Tepoel Road. People can get to the farm from Superior by taking Highway 2 to County Road F. Turn north on F and follow until it ends at Highway 13. Take a right and follow 13 to the east for about two miles. There will be a Dairy Day sign marking Tepoel Road. Take a right turn on Tepoel Road and go down half a mile to the farm.