By Jennie Zeitler, Staff Writer
Whether or not to live life on a farm was never a question for Neal Klaphake. Raising his family on the farm where he grew up south of Melrose, Neal said, “I’ve just enjoyed dairy farming; it’s a neat way of life.”
He lived off the farm for only four years when he and his wife Karen were first married.
Karen grew up on a farm near St. Rosa and is pleased to raise six children in that same environment. “A farm is a good place to raise a family,” she said. Daughters Crystal and Carlee and son Josh still live at home.
Son Nicholas bought an adjoining farm about seven years ago, and is able to use his parents’ equipment.
“When just starting out, it’s good to have someone to work with, to ask questions,” said Neal. “That way you don’t have to learn everything the hard way.”
Nicholas received 20 cows from his parents when he started out to grow his herd.
“If an experienced farmer will work with a younger person financially and alongside them, it helps the new farmer much more,” he said. “I still listen to all advice, because everyone can teach you something.”
The Klaphakes milk 70-75 Holsteins on 260 acres.
Neal and his helpers are currently taking down a silo that was in the way. It hadn’t been used for several years and had become a hangout for pests. “We’re saving the staves and will sell them,” he said.
After farming for several years, Neal came to think that spraying was not always the best thing for a herd or crops and considered changing to an organic farming process.
“I thought, I could always go back if I wanted,” he said.
In 2000, he began transitioning to organic farming and was certified in 2003.
“The herd health improved a lot after that,” Neal said.
Among other requirements, 30 percent of the cows’ dry matter intake has to be from grass for a minimum of 120 days per year.
The Klaphakes found that their cows live longer when raised organically. While milk production may be lower, that is balanced by a longer milking/reproductive life.
“There is a huge range, even in organic farming; everyone does things differently,” Neal said.
They sell their milk and culled cows to Organic Valley in LaFarge, Wis.
For a couple of years, the herd weathered some extreme stray voltage, which seemed to increase with very wet weather.
“We’ve learned a lot about how electricity works and have made changes to our house and farming operation that have greatly improved the situation,” said Neal.
They also raise a diverse flock of chickens for their family. “We have about 50 laying hens and 50 broilers,” said Karen. “It’s a pretty colorful flock.”
The Klaphake family has a large garden, growing a lot of their own food. They also catch some of their food, and most Fridays during the summer, they enjoy a fish fry with Karen’s family.
Camping and snowmobiling are two activities the family loves to do together.
“The kids have always helped,” Karen said. “Josh sometimes feeds calves and likes helping with the milking.”
“I like living out in the country most,” said Carlee.
In addition to their eldest, Nick, with his wife Hope and two little girls, the Klaphakes have two grown daughters. April is an art teacher living in Wyoming and Samantha is working on her nursing degree.
“Everything we do, it is our own; it’s very satisfying,” said Neal. “We raise healthy kids and healthy cows.”
“There are always tough times and there are good times,” Karen said. “Life always comes with both.”
“We take producing food to feed people seriously. I don’t want to produce anything I wouldn’t feed to myself or my own kids,” Neal said.
They have focused on three main things in raising their family: teaching kids the value of money, to not borrow and not have credit cards; the value of hard work, to have a good work ethic; and to have a good faith.
“You have to have strong faith when you farm,” Neal said, “to believe that there is somebody greater than ourselves.”