Center of significance

The tiny German hamlet of Hermann, Mo., is well known for its wine, but few know its history. It’s a rich history of both French and Germans, celebrated vintners and pro­hibition. And it’s that history the Hermann Farm Museum seeks to preserve today.

“Jim has always told me the idea came to him in a dream,” Her­mann Farm Director Eric Nichols said, describing Jim Dierberg, a banker, vintner and owner of the museum in addition to several other properties in the town. “He knew the story of George Hus­mann and the legacy of the Hermann Farm, where Husmann lived, so when the property came up for sale, he was very interested.”

George Husmann is legend in this Missouri River town. Often referred to as the “Father of the Missouri grape industry,” Hus­mann immigrated here from Germany with his family as a child in 1839 and became an expert viticulturist influential in both the Missouri and California wine industries. He was an authority on grape hybrids and soils and is credited with helping to save French winemakers with Missouri rootstock when a nasty blight known as phylloxera destroyed vineyards across France’s countryside in the 1870s. Husmann served as a Union soldier during the Civil War and advocated for the abolishment of slavery. He also sat on the University of Missouri Board of Curators from 1869 to 1872.

“The Husmann house is where restoration began,” Nichols said. “Jim wanted to open the property to the public, so he could begin telling people about Husmann’s legacy and his great accomplish­ments as both a winemaker and horticulturist.”

To restore the Husmann house took about seven years in itself. The property had fallen into disrepair, once having formerly been a rental property and later sitting vacant. After the house’s renovations, Dierberg solidified a vision for his dream. Work began to stabilize and rebuild some of the farm buildings. Roadways for both construction and public access were completed.

“It’s just bloomed from there,” Nichols said. “Jim acquired what we refer to as ‘First Settlement Village,’ which are the houses in the area of the entrance to the farm. All of those buildings also required restoration— from the original post office and trading post to removing an old, abandoned gas station.”

A primitive log barn was rescued and re­constructed on the 200-acre farm. A replica homestead was built next to a newly erected distillery that produces blackberry whiskey, rye whiskey, two types of gin, brandy and vodka. The Dierbergs are also in the process of reclaiming the city lagoons, which will eventually be the site of a picturesque lake and horse arena.

The museum officially opened to the public in 2016 after nearly 15 years of work, largely completed by local craftsmen whenever possible. This center of significance represents both the artistry and hardships of history.

“When the Germans originally settled the area, it wasn’t anything like they envi­sioned,” Nichols said. “When they came here it was late fall and they faced a very bad winter with no place to stay. They essentially expected streets of gold, if you will, and what they found was a wilderness town established by French fur traders.”

The French trading post actually served as home for many of the Germans that first harsh winter. A replica of the trading post can now be toured along with a museum, the Schuetzen Halle (a target shooting club), woodworking shop and traditional four-square German gardens planted in crops of the period.

Wyandotte and Barred Plymouth Rock chickens peck at the ground in a small coop. Two Missouri Mules named Pat and Jane came with the farm when it was purchased from the Kallmeyer family, who owned and farmed the land for 100 years after the Husmanns. Nichols said the plan is to add more livestock in the future. Per­haps one of the farm’s most notable aspects are its endangered English Shire horses.

“The breed kind of fell by the wayside during the Industrial Revolution,” Nichols said. “The draft horse used to be your tractor, but much like present day, farmers wanted more efficient equipment. The massive Shires were also used to pull heavy dray wagons to town, which held beer, ale, spirits and wine. Keeping those two things in mind, they really seemed to suit here.”

The farm is actively involved in a Shire breeding program and has successfully bred 10 foals, the newest born at the beginning of May. The baby weighed in at a massive 135 pounds. Bigger than Clydesdales, these horses dwarf a normal person, but their gentle temperament makes them good candidates for tour groups.

“I think my No. 1 interest is the antiquity of the farm,” Nichols said. “I’m a 32-year veteran an­tique dealer in addition to work­ing at the farm. The preservation of history is paramount for me, and I like having a hand in that.”

The Hermann Farm Museum is open Wednesday through Sunday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., now through Oct. 31. For more information, visit www.hermannfarm.com.

Author’s note
I grew up in Hermann, Mo., when there were few things to do before the age of 21 and even fewer that wouldn’t get you into trouble. As a former Hermannite, the immense work to revitalize the town is appreciated. At one time, it seemed like more businesses were shuttering their doors rather than opening them. Now there are coffee shops, restaurants and an am­phitheater that hosts concerts and movies. It’s good to see such economic vitality returning. Hermann will always be known as a wine town, but to this girl who grew up in its woods and fields, it’s always held so much potential. Proj­ects like the Hermann Farm help the community realize its potential.

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Creature Comforts

Comfortable cows are happier and healthier and make more milk. That’s why the University of Missouri’s Foremost Dairy Research Center outside Columbia, Mo., is taking cow comfort to a new level by providing their milking herd with waterbeds in their free stalls.

Yes, waterbeds. But these aren’t the waterbeds of your typical 1970s-chic bedroom. Made by Advanced Comfort Technology, Inc., in Sun Prairie, Wis., the dual-chamber mattresses are made of layers of rubber and fabric tough enough that even the tines of a pitchfork won’t puncture them.

In October 2018, Foremost Dairy installed 80 of the waterbeds in half of the freestall barn to replace the rubber mattresses that had begun to show wear and tear. MU Extension veterinarian Dr. Scott Poock and dairy specialist Stacey Hamilton are conducting an informal study to see how the waterbeds affect cow health and productivity. The study wouldn’t with­stand the rigors of formal journal research, Poock said, but it’s interesting nonetheless.

“We needed to renovate the old mattresses somehow,” Poock said. “They were getting to the end of their lifespan, and we’d seen these waterbeds at some of the dairy meetings. We didn’t just want to go in whole-hog, so that’s why we only put them in half of the stalls. We wanted to see how they work.”

The researchers monitor cows on cameras to see how they use the stalls and record data about resting times and milk production. Poock said he was pleased with how quickly the cows adapted to the new beds.

“All I can compare is what the cows were doing before the waterbeds came in and what they did afterward,” he said. “When they come into the waterbed, they tend to lie down sooner than they did with the old mattress, and fewer of them leave without lying down. Both of those things will lead to better cow health.”

High-producing dairy cows are supposed to lie down any­where from 12-14 hours a day, Poock explained. The theory is that when they are lying down, more blood flows through their mammary gland. The more blood that gets through, the more milk they make. Additionally, lying down prevents lameness. Cows with comfortable bedding tend to have fewer issues with legs and hooves.

“Lameness impacts their ability to come into heat, their ability to socialize and their ability to get pregnant,” Poock said. “So anything we can do to make them more comfortable and lie down where they have less trouble with those issues is going to help them be healthier.”

And at Foremost, the cows decide what they want to do and when they do it, he added.

“In our free stalls, the cows can eat when they want to eat, they can lie down when they want to lie down and they can so­cialize when they want to socialize,” Poock said. “Our Holsteins average about 80 pounds of milk per day, the Guernseys aver­age around 55 pounds and our cross-bred cows are hovering around 65-70 pounds. We expect those differences between the groups, and we want them to be as comfortable as possible while they’re producing.”

DCC Waterbeds perform differently than traditional rubber mattresses, explained Chief Operating Officer Amy Throndsen. The technology uses two chambers and the gentle movement of water to float cows’ pressure points, lessening the heat and friction that can cause hock lesions and other issues like mastitis.

“When cows lie down and get up, there’s a front pillow or water pocket to cushion their knees,” Throndsen said. “There are single-chamber waterbeds out there, but with ours there’s no water transfer between the front and back chambers, ensuring consistent comfort on both the knees and hind pres­sure points—even after thousands of uses.”

Advanced Comfort Technology is a family business estab­lished in the late 1990s by Amy’s father, Dean Throndsen, who invented the dual-chamber beds.

“He worked for a company that sold single-chamber beds, but he knew the design was flawed,” Throndsen said. “Unfor­tunately or fortunately, depending how you look at it, when he took the design change to the company, they said, ‘No, thank you.’ It took him a few years to find an engineer who understood how nuanced the change was but how significant of a difference it would make. From there, he got connected with a patent attorney and manufacturing company, and here we are 20 years later.”

DCC Water­beds now has worldwide patents and has installations in more than 35 countries.

“We have an estimated 15- to 20-year life expectancy on our beds, with the earliest beds being installed in North America in 1999,” Throndsen said.

Throndsen said most dairy farmers switch to the waterbeds because of the challenges they encounter with other methods. Traditional mat­tresses can wear over time. Any rips and tears can hold manure and top bedding like sawdust or shavings. Sand, considered the gold standard, can be expensive, requires frequent replacement and management, hours of intense labor and constant wear and tear on manure equipment.

“Back when my grandpa had cows, we made a stall out of concrete and put various materials on top of it—shavings, corn stalks or straw—to somewhat cushion it,” Poock said. “When herds started expanding, and we went to free stalls, we used mattresses. Then we thought maybe that isn’t as comfortable, so we put something on top of it to help provide more cushion. And then sand came along. Sand gives the most and forms to the cows the best.”

However, sand has its drawbacks, Poock said. Cows kick it out of the stalls, and it has to be replaced at least partially every week. If Foremost used sand, it would take 50 pounds for each of the dairy’s 160 stalls. The waterbeds are an easier option.

“A lot of times, the reason a dairy farmer begins looking at our waterbeds is because something isn’t working for their operation,” Throndsen said. “Some farms might be doing a great job in managing their traditional mattresses or sand bedding, but boy, are they spending a ton of money and time doing it. When you’re choosing between spending time with your family and shoveling sand every day, people begin considering other options. They want the same level of cow comfort but to mini­mize their inputs while doing so.”

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Daring dairy

At a time when may dairy producers are selling out, Adam and Jon Lenz are building up.

The brothers and farming partners are expanding their registered Holstein herd and constructing a brand-new, state-of-the-art facility on their family farm in Bunceton, Mo. The upgraded dairy will accommodate 400 cows, five times the size of their current milking herd.

In a tough farm economy, such bold plans take a leap of faith, but the Lenz brothers are confident they are ready for the chal­lenge. The fourth-generation farmers say it’s a risk they’re willing to take for their families and the future of Lenz View Dairy.

“It’s very scary doing this,” Adam said. “But if it didn’t scare us, there’d probably be something wrong.”

The daring venture gets under way this summer with the goal to be operational by this time next year. It will open a fresh chapter for the dairy, which was established by their grandfather, Eldon, in the early 1960s. Adam, now 35, and Jon, 33, grew up working alongside their grandfather, their father, David, and their uncle, James.

“We’ve been part of the farm ever since we were old enough to lift a feed bucket,” Jon said. “Through high school, we always had chores, even though we played sports. We’d have about 15 minutes to come home after school, feed all the calves and get back to the bus to go to wherever we were going to play ball. We did that many times.”

Adam attended college to study agriculture technology and agronomy, but he ultimately decided to come back to farm full time in 2006, joining his father and uncle in the diversified dairy and row-crop operation. Jon earned an education degree but, like his brother, returned to the dairy in 2010 after one year of teach­ing. “The cows don’t talk back as much,” he said with a laugh.

Their older brother, Jeremy, an employee of MFA Agri Services in Boonville, also helps out on the farm when needed.

“When we were little, Dad always made sure we had respon­sibilities on the farm. I think he wanted to help us decide if this is really what we wanted to do,” Adam explained. “Don’t get me wrong. He wanted us to know it’s not an easy life. It’s more of a lifestyle. But I think deep down he was very proud we came back to carry on the Lenz View Dairy name for another generation.”

The partnership with their dad ended much sooner than Adam and Jon expected. David died in August 2018 from complications related to an autoimmune disease that compromised his heart and lungs. He was only 68.

“Dad was here on the farm, working with us until three or four days before he died,” Jon said. “He wouldn’t have had it any other way. They were looking at a lung transplant at one point in time, but if he’d had that, doctors wouldn’t have allowed him to farm. He wouldn’t have sur­vived that. He was right where he wanted to be.”

This first spring without their father was especially tough, the brothers admit. Not only are they still grieving his absence, they’re also missing his assistance.

“Even though Dad had slowed down, it was perfect to have him out there working up ground while we were in the milk barn,” Adam said. “He couldn’t do a lot of moving around, but he could sit on the tractor seat. That’s one big struggle we’ve found, and we fell behind this spring without his help. We were trying to take care of chores around here, but we needed to be in the field, too. It’s meant lots of long days.”

Before David’s death, he had a chance to share his input on preliminary plans for the new dairy. The family had been dreaming about the expansion for years, but Adam and Jon got serious about making the concept a reality this past fall. They got blessings from their bank, consulted with the Natural Re­sources Conservation Service, hired an architect and put togeth­er a budget with help from the University of Missouri Extension dairy specialist Joe Horner.

“The main difference between the old facility and the new facility is efficiency,” Adam said. “From pen size to cow comfort, all those features tie together. We’re going to completely re-eval­uate our system and put together standard operating procedures so everyone is on the same page. That’s how you get extremely efficient dairies that are very successful. I know it’s not going to be easy, but that’s why I think we can make this work.”

The facility will be located in a 40-acre field across the road from the farm where the Lenzes currently milk 10 cows at a time in a double-five, herringbone-style parlor built in 1973. In May, the construction site was a flourishing field of triticale des­tined to be harvested for haylage. If all goes as planned, by next May it will be home to a 105-by-506-foot freestall barn and modern milking parlor.

“We wanted to start fresh and clean,” Adam said. “It was tough to think about taking something out of crop production and turning it into a big chunk of concrete, but it was better to get the new facili­ties out of the clutter of our existing buildings and focus on a site where there are no constraints.”

The new parlor will accommodate 24 cows at a time in a highly efficient parallel system. As the name implies, cows stand side-by-side in this design, versus the herringbone, in which they are situated at 45-degree angles. Milking in a paral­lel pattern means more cows in a smaller space, less walking for the operator and rapid exit for better flow, Jon explained. The brothers expect to milk around 110 cows per hour in the new parlor instead of their current rate of about 40 cows per hour.

“It’s going to be a night-and-day difference to us,” Jon said. “We’re used to milking from the side, and now we’re going to be milking from behind a cow. That may not seem like that big a deal, but I’m sure there’ll be a learning curve for a while.”

Another notable change is switching from milking twice daily to three times, which should increase production 6 to 8 pounds per cow, per day, the brothers estimate. To get more milk, they need to optimize feed intake, maximize resting time and keep the cows healthy and happy. Cow comfort is the No. 1 consid­eration, Adam said.

“You take care of the cows,” he said, “and they’ll take care of you.”

To that end, the new Lenz View Dairy stalls will be cushioned with sand, considered one of the best beddings for cow com­fort. Sand provides good traction and support, allowing cows to get up and down with ease. It also encourages the cows to rest for long periods of time and reduces the risk of knee and hock injuries.

Because dairy cows also need a constant source of fresh, clean air to achieve their production potential, the Lenzes plan to use tunnel ventilation in the new freestall barn. In this system, fans are placed in one end-wall of the building to create a negative pressure in the barn, causing air to be drawn into the opposite end. Inside, the fresh air moves along the length of the barn in a constant flow.

“We’ve done a lot of research and wanted to try something new,” Adam said. “You see tunnel ventilation a lot more up north and down south. We want to keep the cows cool in the summer and get good ventilation in the winter. This type of ventila­tion should provide much more consistent air movement across every square foot.”

Along with efficiency, sustainability is top of mind in all their plans, the brothers insist. The barn will be equipped with a flush system, which uses water to remove waste from the pens, stalls and alleys. The manure is captured for use as fertil­izer, and the sand is separated and reclaimed for the stalls.

“Dairy farmers are very good stewards of the land,” Adam said. “We have to be. Everything we’re doing ties together to help us sustain this operation. We take pride in producing an extremely nutritious product and doing it in a way that takes care of our animals and the environment. That’s something we want everyone to know.”

The Lenzes have been building their herd in anticipation of the new facility and expect to be milking more than 120 head by next winter.

“With bad milk prices also comes a kind of silver lining. Heifers are just so cheap,” Adam said. “Last year, we bought around 50 breeding-size heifers that should calve this fall. We’ll still have a lot of cows to buy, but this will kind of help ease the pain just a little bit.”

The Lenzes currently produce 1,300 acres of corn and soybeans along with 500 to 600 acres of wet and dry hay, including alfalfa, triticale, cereal rye, Marshall rye, oats, timothy, clover, brome and fescue. They feed these forages along with corn silage and an MFA complete dairy supple­ment with Shield Technology. The escalation from milking 80 cows to 400 cows will understandably require much more feed. About half their corn acres will be chopped for silage this year, they said, and some of their less-productive row-crop ground will be transitioned to forages to provide additional hay and haylage for the expanded herd.

“We figured the number 400 is how many cows we can support with the amount of acres we have and comfortably live,” Jon said. “We can grow a lot of our own feed, and that should help out a bunch with the bills.”

The Lenzes currently market their milk through Dairy Farmers of America cooperative and will continue to do so with the expanded operation. The milk mainly goes to Central Dairy to supply school cafeterias. Adam said he has received a tremendous amount of support and guidance from DFA, especially from the organization’s Young Coopera­tors program, of which he is a member.

If construction begins as scheduled this summer, the Lenzes expect the process to take nine to 10 months from groundbreaking to the first milking. When complete, the operation will need six more full-time employees to handle the dairy side of the business.

“We realize labor is a huge issue, so that’s something we’re going to have to figure out,” Adam admitted. “Not every­body’s jumping up and down to be a dairy laborer.”

With farm income in decline across the entire agricultural industry, building a brand-new dairy may seem like a gutsy move—and it is. But the Lenz brothers say it’s a very calcu­lated move. They also emphasized how grateful they are for the support of their families as they undertake this endeavor.

“We didn’t just one day decide to build a bigger dairy,” Jon said. “We’ve put a lot of thought and work into this. We’ve talked to people who are very successful in their dairies. We’ve talked to people who have sold out and found out the reasons why. We’ve done the research, talked with engineers, put together a budget, looked at the best pen sizes and parlor sizes. Unless something catastrophic happens, I don’t think anything can hold us back.”

In today’s challenging dairy economy, it takes more than knowledge and preparation to succeed, but these young producers say they also have the ambition, enthusiasm and courage needed to make their mark on the family’s farming legacy.

“Dairy is what we know; dairy is what we love,” Adam said. “But we have to keep up with the times. We can’t stay where we’re at and still make a living and sustain the farm. We have to do something different. We want to make better lives for us, our families and for our next generation. I think that’s the big picture.”

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This place matters

NewcomerSchoolhouseOn May 3, 74 people attended a kick-off event organized by Missouri Main Street Connection to celebrate National Preservation Month at the Newcomer Schoolhouse near Brunswick, Mo.The tiny, one-room Newcomer Schoolhouse in Brunswick, Mo., came alive with activity on May 3 as 74 people filled the building and spilled out onto its porch to launch a tour of historic sites across the Show-Me State.

The event, organized by the Missouri Main Street Connection in honor of Na­tional Preservation Month, was one of the first stops on a road show titled “This Place Matters.” Throughout May, the 17-site tour highlighted historic districts and properties in rural communities that sponsored an event.

“We’re excited to have the Newcomer Schoolhouse kick off this tour,” said Thresa Kussman, president of the Brunswick Main Street Association. “We knew that we had to choose a building that had been preserved and meant a lot to the community, and the Newcomer Schoolhouse was the perfect choice.”

Why does this place matter? Newcomer Schoolhouse is considered the birth­place of MFA on March 10, 1914, when seven farmers gathered there to place a bulk order of binder twine. With the formation of the Newcomer Schoolhouse Farm Club and its first order of agricultural inputs, those visionary farmers helped fulfill the vision of MFA founder William Hirth, who had been advocating the idea of cooperative buying power through his magazine, The Missouri Farm­er—now Today’s Farmer.

That momentous meeting in the Chariton County schoolhouse marked the beginning of MFA and its 105-year history of serving Midwest farmers. That significance was celebrated by the Missouri Main Street Connection, a non-profit whose mission is to enhance the economic, social, cultural and environmental well-being of historic downtown business districts in the state. Kussman spear­headed efforts for the Brunswick Main Street Association to join the organization, and the city is now designated as an affiliate grant community.

“Our job is to promote our community, the heritage, our identity and our eco­nomic vitality,” Kussman said. “It’s all connected with who we are, and a big part of who we are has to do with MFA.”

NewcomerSchoolhouse1Retired MFA employee Jim Nanneman helped restore the school for MFA Incorporated’s centennial celebration in 2014. Considered the birthplace of MFA, the building is where seven farmers placed their first cooperative order in 1914.An occupational therapist by trade, Kussman moved back to Brunswick in 2017 from the West Coast after her father died, and she soon began to get involved in community activities.

“I truly didn’t know why I was called back here,” she said. “A job opened up for me in healthcare, and about three months later I started a clean-up day for the city. We call it the ‘Big Spring Clean,’ which is now in its third year. From there, I knew I wanted to contribute because I had chosen to come back.”

Bill Jackson, who co-owned and operated Agri Services of Brunswick from 1977 until his retirement last fall, serves as an adviser to the Brunswick Main Street Association board of di­rectors. He helped organize the Newcomer Schoolhouse event.

“I wasn’t acting busy enough, I guess,” Jackson joked. “That happens when you retire.”

The program at the Main Street event included a video produced by the sixth-grade class from Brunswick Elementary illustrating the history of the building, cooperatives and MFA. Jim Nanneman, who helped restore the building prior to MFA’s centennial in 2014, discussed those efforts and answered ques­tions about specific renovations such as the floors, paint and kitchen that once occupied the back corner.

Former students of Newcomer school were in attendance, swapping stories about the school and their teacher, Lucy Hei­sel. First through eighth grade were taught in that same room. Shirley Fry passed around her first-grade picture from 1947 and shared her memories of the school.

Margie Jansen (Feitz), who attended from 1938-1947, also remembers her time there well.

“I’d walk the mile to and from my house every day,” Jansen said. “Sometimes I’d ride a horse or a bicycle. Other times we’d run because the boys would throw rocks at us.”

NewcomerSchoolhouse2Cadence Meyer from Mrs. Richards’ sixth-grade class in Brunswick, Mo. listens to a presentation during the day’s events. The sixth-graders created a video explanation of MFA’s history to showcase at the event.The school dates to at least 1876. Attendees debated when the last class was held there, but it was likely in the late 1940s or early 1950s. The school was part of a cluster of buildings that once included a Christian church, a livery stable and a general store. The Newcomer Post Office was established in 1886 and operat­ed until 1906. Those sites have now given way to open pastures.

“Why does any place matter?” MFA Director of Communications Steve Fairchild asked when wrap­ping up the day’s events. “Of course, this place matters to MFA because it’s part of our history, but places matter because they are a placeholder. They are a representation of human progress—of what we’ve done and what our legacy is. That’s why places matter.”

Kussman said she and her fellow members of the Main Street Association have laid out a five- to 10-year plan to continue the revitalization of Brunswick’s downtown buildings, reassert the city’s presence on the Grand River and strengthen its identity as the pecan capital of Missouri.

“Big things are going to be happening in the next three to five years,” Kussman said. “Right now, we have a lot of ideas that are like seeds germinating. When they push up through the ground, they will be blooms of something great.”

To find out more about #Thisplacematters sites, visit www.momainstreet.org.

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