COURTESY OF THE JOHNSON FAMILY
The Johnson family of Johnson’s Rolling Acres farms is hosting this year’s dairy supper on Saturday, June 17. Shown in front, from left, are Darleen and the late LeRoy Johnson. In the second row are Richard, Pam, Ellen, Kari, Cindy and Emily. In back are Zac, Gerald, Brad, Lee, Mark and Trinity.
COURTESY OF THE JOHNSON FAMILY The Johnson family of Johnson’s Rolling Acres farms is hosting this year’s dairy supper on Saturday, June 17. Shown in front, from left, are Darleen and the late LeRoy Johnson. In the second row are Richard, Pam, Ellen, Kari, Cindy and Emily. In back are Zac, Gerald, Brad, Lee, Mark and Trinity.
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The Johnson family of Peterson first incorporated the Johnson’s Rolling Acres farm in 1978. The family members of this family-owned business not only milk cows, they grow their own crops and raise hogs as well.

The Johnsons call it “diversification” – a business strategy designed to weather the ups-and-downs that the agricultural business cycle is famous for.

The farm has grown from a milking herd of 36 to roughly over 1,000 cows that are milked three times a day. Their total herd is over 1,200 with dry cows and heifers.

The Johnsons would like to invite the public to their farm on Saturday, June 17, for the Fillmore County American Dairy Association (ADA) Dairy Night on the Farm event, starting at 5:30 p.m.

The Johnson family and the Fillmore County ADA want the public to learn more about the family’s operation and the dairy industry as well.

“We’re a diversified business,” said Mark Johnson, who heads the dairy side of the business. “We also finish out about 10,000 pigs a year. We have enough crop land to raise all of our feed here, and we sell about 50,000 bushels of corn a year, too.”

Johnson said when his dad helped start the farm, when Mark was “a little guy,” they started with 36 cows and are currently at 1,250 cows.

They milk the herd in three shifts with four people working each shift. While older dairy farmers may have milked once in the morning and again in the evening, Johnson said milking three times a day is actually healthier for the cows.

“Cows are bred to give milk,” he said. “We’ve found that for health reasons, like a high somatic-cell count, which indicates an infection, if you milk them three times a day, they’re less likely to get somatic-cell problems, and you also get more production out of them too.”

Trinity Johnson helps Mark in overseeing the family dairy operation. He said the cows’ udders are always full, which leads to the cows feeling uncomfortable. The discomfort is reduced quite a bit when the cows are milked three times a day.

“It’s kind of like when a human first gets up in the morning with a full bladder,” Trinity explained. “It’s an uncomfortable feeling a lot like that. It keeps the bag not as full when the cows are milked every eight hours, and they actually produce more milk, too.”

Milking shifts start at 6 a.m., 2 p.m. and again at 10 p.m. with each shift lasting eight hours. The milk gets sold to AMPI in Rochester. The last couple of years have seen very low prices for milk, but the Johnsons said the price has finally started to go in the right direction again.

“Compared to last year, this year has seen an increase of $2.50 to $3 (per hundredweight) better than last year,” Mark said. “It’s getting better and really close to the break-even point where we can make a little money on the deal. It still could be a little better.”

New technology is among the biggest changes to the dairy industry in recent years. Mark said the industry has figured out ways to get a lot more milk out of the same animals, like improving genetics, feed quality and computer technology to keep track of each cow in the herd.

The Johnson family actually hosted a Dairy Night on the Farm event back in 2003. They’re looking forward to doing it again this year.

Since 2003, the family has added a cross-ventilation barn, which is a new technology for the farm, so Mark said there’s more interesting things to see out there.

“I’m also on the Fillmore County ADA board,” Trinity said while laughing. “I had to beg my uncles to make sure we do this, because it’s a lot easier on me, being a member of the board and this operation, too.

“The meal is all free-will donation,” he said. “We’ll have cheeseburgers, potato salad, baked beans, chips, cheese curds, and obviously, milk. We’re bringing in bounce houses for the kids.

“The Rushford Elevator donated a corn box (instead of a sand box) for the kids to play in. We’re not going to do a lot of straight tours, but we’ll have people stationed in different parts of the farm to direct people to the different areas to see an active, working dairy farm.”

This won’t be the only time the Johnsons host people on their farm. They receive tours on a yearly basis, including kids from the Rushford-Peterson School District as well as people from some of the companies the Johnsons work with.

So why do they host tours?

“The more people we can get to see what we do, the easier it is to explain what we do,” Trinity explained. “The picture that’s getting painted in the national media is we’re the bad guys – we’re mean to our animals; but in reality, everything we do is for cow comfort. A happy cow is what works well for us and keeps us in business. If she’s not happy, we’re not happy.”

The Johnson’s Rolling Acres Farm is located at 24486 Bear Paw Road in rural Peterson, off of Highway 43 South. Look for the signs.