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Dairy in their DNA

Much has changed since Darrell Kraus’ great-grandfather, Charles, purchased 320 acres in the valleys of Jefferson County, Mo., in 1892 and started a dairy farm. Yet plenty has remained the same for the Krauses, who, 131 years later, are still farming this beautiful, rolling terrain that’s reminiscent of the family’s homeland in Germany.

Darrell, now the family’s fourth-generation dairy farmer, is president of Kraus Dairy Farm, Inc. He operates the 800-acre, Grade A dairy in Barnhart, Mo., full time with his sister, Connie Stuckmeyer, and his son, Andrew. When more help is needed, other family members are just a phone call away.

“My great-grandpa started farming here in 1894. My grandpa, Henry, took over the dairy from him. Then my dad, Norvill, purchased the farm in the early 1950s after he got home from the service,” Darrell explained.

Through the years, the Krauses expanded their acreage with land purchases from surrounding farms and added more dairy cows. Darrell stepped into the operation in the early 1980s.

“Growing up here, I learned by watching and doing,” he said. “My dad and grandpa milked about 20 cows. Each day I discovered something new about farming. I understood how to be efficient with the resources we had.”

Of the five children Norvill and his wife, Joyce, raised on the Kraus farm, Darrell and Connie still carry on the family tradition daily as partners in the corporation. Andrew helps full time and Darrell’s wife, Teresa, does some field work and milking. Their daughter, Sarah Saputo, who teaches elemen­tary school in Antonia, Mo., helps out on the farm during the summer.

“I also have a brother who will pitch in, and a few nephews help feed,” Darrell said. “We are fairly self-sufficient. The only person outside the family we pay is the man who hauls our milk.”

The Krauses have a herd of about 300 Holstein-Jersey crossbred cows, which Darrell said is their peak number.

“Our facilities support milking about 120 cows,” he added. “We raise all our replacement cows and grow all our corn, barley and hay.”

The Krauses use MFA Dairy 32 feed, MFA AAA milk replacer, Standout Dairy calf starter with Shield, Rico­chet mineral, and Natural 36 in their heifer rations. They also started using Clarifly larvacide for feed-through fly control in rations for the milk cows and growing heifers.

Darrell said he has worked with MFA for about 30 years, “keeping things local.”

“I’d say we are solidly dedicated MFA for seed, feeds and nutritional advice,” he added.

Farming through history

For the Krauses, sustainable farming goes back to the ear­ly days when Darrell’s great-grandparents grew what they needed to provide for their family. The surplus was sold to local markets. In addition to the dairy cows, the earlier generations raised chickens and a few hogs, planted grains—mainly wheat—and had apple and peach trees.

“We had everything we needed,” said Norvill, who is now 90 years old.

As a young man, Norvill’s grandfather, Charles, and his wife traveled from Offenburg, Germany, to the United States. For many Germans during the late 19th century, the Midwest offered a new life filled with opportunities and a promise for a better future. Five generations of Krauses have been raised on and worked the original “half section of land” Charles purchased in Barnhart, now considered a suburb of St. Louis.

“When my wife and I purchased the farm and dairy from my father, Henry, we milked 12 to 15 cows and had Grade A milk that we sold to Pevely Dairy in St. Louis,” Norvill recalled. “Before all the modernization and regulations, our milk was stored in milking cans, cooled by well water and then loaded on the train in Barnhart where it then made its way to St. Louis.”

An interesting story Norvill shared was that during World War II, the United States military stationed at Jefferson Barracks in St. Louis used about 1,000 acres in Jefferson County, including parts of his family’s farm, as a rifle range. The Kraus property had a sub-machine gun range, while down the road was a rifle range. 

“The military had a barbed wire fence around the area to keep the livestock and local residents off the range,” Norvill said. “During that time, I served in the Army for two years and then went back to the farm.”

Dairy farming demands dedication, long hours and hard work. The Krauses are a tight-knit family who say they enjoy living off the land and are grateful for its many blessings. Many days you will see Joyce, 85, walking down Moss Hollow Road and then back to the family home where you can purchase eggs from the porch. She and Norvill will celebrate 66 years of mar­riage later this year.

“It’s been quite an honor to raise a family here,” he said.

Celebrating dairy heritage

Reagan Bluel, Extension field specialist in dairy and Missouri dairy educational director, said that dairy farming has a posi­tive impact on the state. “Neighboring dairy farm owners are community minded,” she said. “They often contribute as an employer, volunteer and economic engine to the surrounding small communities.”

That statement rings true with the Kraus family. Each year, Darrell helps his daughter with a career day at the elementary school where she teaches.

“We basically take the farm to the school,” he said. “It’s pretty cool. She created a video on how cows are milked, and the students are amazed. The adults usually have more questions than the kids.”

The industry is an important contributor to Missouri’s econ­omy, according to a study conducted in 2021. It reported that dairy products alone accounted for $205 million annually.

“There are other industries supported by dairy producers,” Bluel added. “A University of Missouri study in 2015 reported the economic output effect per cow was $14,464. In 2022, Missouri had 67,000 dairy cows, resulting in the calculated eco­nomic output of nearly $970 million.”

Although Missouri’s milk cow numbers dipped slightly to start 2023, she said the USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service expects the state’s dairy farms to produce more than 1 billion pounds of milk this year.

“While Missouri may not be one of the top dairy-producing states in the U.S., ranking 24th in dairy cow numbers and 26th in milk production, our dairy farmers work to improve their production practices and carve out niches for their products,” Bluel said. “Along the way, these farmers innovate and partner with others to make the dairy industry more sustainable.”

Defying the odds

Building on a strong foundation on his own family farm, Darrell has modernized and grown the operation through the years.

“We remodeled the milking parlor a couple of times,” he said. “We went from a bypass three to six-on-six herringbone style, and then expanded to what we have right now, a double-10 herringbone.”

A computerized feeding system records each cow’s milk weight, lactation cycle, when she eats and her rations. A tran­sponder hanging around the cow’s neck collects feeding and milking data.

“Each cow is fed accordingly, so the big boss cow doesn’t get all the feed,” Darrell explained. “I can see which cows are efficient and making us money. I can program what should be in each ration into my feeding table and into the computerized feeding system.”

Through the winter, the family milks around 120 cows. In the warmer months, Darrell said they dry off some cows and milk about 100.

“Throughout the summer, our dry cows move around to the different pastures,” Darrell said. “The lactating cows are housed in a free-stall facility with straw bedding. We also have dirt lots for them to get out and exercise and stretch out a bit, the old-style way.”

The Kraus Dairy has been a member of Prairie Farms cooper­ative for about 30 years and last year was named one of the top 10 producers in Missouri. “We have won the gold standard for probably the last 15 years with Prairie Farms,” said Darrell.

Among the criteria that help the Kraus earn this reputation are consistently low somatic cell counts and preliminary incu­bation (PI) bacteria count. Somatic cells occur naturally, and dairy farmers monitor them to measure of the health of their cows. The PI count tests for psychrotrophic bacteria, which grow in cold environments. Prairie Farms uses this test to detect for bacteria by holding milk at 55° for 18 hours.

“We strive for quality,” Darrell said. “By mixing the Jerseys with the Holsteins, we run better components, which is the but­terfat and protein in our milk.”

The success of the Kraus Dairy not only depends on the well-being of the herd but also how they treat the land, said Chris Klein, MFA agronomy key account manager in Ste. Gen­evieve, Mo.

“Darrell is enrolled in Nutri-Track so we can check the fertil­ity and health of the soil,” Klein said. “With the soil test, we can see where we are sitting with the fertility numbers and figure out what we need to do to make it better because we are trying to grow more on every acre. We help with seed and fertility or a bit of spraying, but Darrell’s pretty self-sufficient. I enjoy partnering with him because of all the knowledge he has. It is an excellent dairy operation.”

The Kraus herd depends on the nutrition they receive from the MFA feed and supplements as well as corn, barley and wheat raised on the farm. Klein said that the feed is delivered directly from the MFA mill in Gerald, Mo., to help ensure that the dairy cows have the nutrition they need to produce the best-quality milk.

Stephen Daume, MFA livestock specialist, has worked with Darrell for more than a decade and has nothing but praise for the Kraus farm.

“We go back a long way, even though my role with the farm has changed over the last few years,” Daume said. “Now, whenever something’s not going right or if they are looking at changing something, Chris or Darrell will call me. For exam­ple, a few years ago we worked through an aflatoxin situation, but issues are rare. Honestly, Darrell does such a good job. His somatic cell counts are probably one of the lowest of any of the dairies that I work with. He’s just really on top of things. It’s a joy to work with somebody that takes so much pride his operation and in taking care of his cows. It just makes farming a lot easier and life a lot better.”

Preparing for the future

Just as his father learned the trade, Andrew is gaining experience and practical knowledge each day working with Darrell.

“My dad has taught me every­thing I know—from bucketing calves to grinding feed,” Andrew said. “I still have so much more to learn, no doubt, but my dad has always been in my corner, support­ing me with playing sports in high school and college as well as with learning about farming. He’s my best friend because we’ve just done everything in my life together.”

In fact, Andrew pointed out that growing up on a dairy farm has created a closeness among all his family members.

“You just grow up differently,” he said. “It’s something difficult to explain or put into words. Our families are together all the time. You just become more of a family than you could ever think of. It’s kind of magical.”

Bluel also marvels in the dairy magic. Through her role with MU Extension, she works with dairy farm families to help with farm succession planning, to support growth within those dairies seeking to continue, to encourage out-of-state producers to consider Missouri and to assist with value-added processing opportunities.

“We should pause and appreciate how the dairy farm supports the family and creates a generation—or more—who value endurance and perseverance,” Bluel said. “I love to see a dairy farm persist on to the next generation, but generational transfer of a farming operation requires a passion and strong commitment. I applaud every gen­eration of the Kraus Dairy for the dedication and patience it took to see the process through to 2023.”

As the population of Jefferson County continues to grow, the Krauses are standing firm and holding on to heritage. At one time there were 10 small dairies operat­ing throughout the valley, Norvill said. Today, only two remain.

“We have real-estate people ask­ing to buy some of the farm all the time,” he said. “We just say, ‘Well, it’s not for sale.’”

As the next generation poised to carry on the family tradition, 28-year-old Andrew is looking forward to running the operation on his own one day. He is also fully aware of the tough road ahead.

“Yes, the plan is for me to take the reins from my dad, but I’d be lying if I told you I wasn’t scared,” he said. “I know I’ve got my hands full, but I’m up for the challenge.”

READ MORE from the June/July 2023 Today’s Farmer’s Magazine, the MFA Incorporated member magazine.

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