Brandt Dairy closes after 80 years

By Neal A. Johnson, UD Editor
Posted 3/27/24

LINN   — Alfred Brandt was the last in his family to operate the business his grandparents began in the 1940s on a stretch of land few believed would be productive.

After selling all …

This item is available in full to subscribers.

Please log in to continue

Log in

Brandt Dairy closes after 80 years


LINN  — Alfred Brandt was the last in his family to operate the business his grandparents began in the 1940s on a stretch of land few believed would be productive.

After selling all his milk cows to a farmer with locations in Ohio and Indiana — about 20 minutes apart — Brandt Dairy ceased operations. Watching the last load of milk leave Brandt Dairy after 80 years left a virtually empty barn, something Alfred never thought possible.

“I always kind of thought that I’d go until I was 62 or 65, something like that,” Alfred, 56, said. “But then this winter, the cold spell hit. I looked around here and saw all the things that needed to be repaired to stay relevant. I mean, I can patch and repair for another six or eight years and get by, but really, to stay relevant, I’d need to spend $700,000. My milk barns are old, and we weld on them all the time. The stalls are shot and need to be replaced. I wouldn’t trade what we’ve done for anything, but there comes a time when it’s time to do something different. I’ve always loved it. You know, it’s a huge part of who I am.”

Alfred’s parting with his herd was a little rough. “I am filled with many emotions today, but the feeling that outweighs them all is gratitude,” he wrote on Facebook. “I am thankful to God for allowing me and my parents before me to do this work that we love for over 60 years. I have been able to own and work with some of the best registered Holstein cows in the state of Missouri. My cows’ milk has fed and nourished countless families.”

Alfred’s grandparents, Alfred and Josepha (Bock) Brandt, milked when his dad, Don, was a baby.

“My grandpa was killed by a Holstein bull in 1955 when my dad was 12,” Alfred said. “My Grandma was pregnant with her eighth child and raised all of her children on a farm by herself, while running a dairy farm. When mom and dad got married in 1965, they moved part of that herd, maybe the whole herd, here.”

Don Brandt purchased the land from his grandparents. “He said the Regional Extension agent at that time, Marion Gentry, wanted to look at it and make sure everything would work out,” Alfred said. “He looked around, and there was a lot of growth and brush, and it was rocky. And he said, ‘Don, I know you got your heart set on this, and I don’t know how to tell you this, but I don’t think you could raise hell on that farm with a redhead and a bottle of whiskey.’ He proved them wrong.”

Brandt Dairy has been on this stretch of land as a working dairy farm for close to 60 years and in operation for close to 80 years.

“Prior to today, the cows on this farm have been milked at least twice a day, every single day, for the past 60 years —through Christmases, birthdays, snowstorms, heat waves, and during the aftermath of a tornado,” he noted. “If we got nothing else accomplished on a given day, at least the cows were fed and milked two times that day.”

Brandt Dairy’s registered Holsteins are among the best in Missouri based on Holstein Association criteria. “They send a person out every seven months, and we classify cows,” Alfred explained. “Most herds are just commercial; they don’t have registered cows. We did because I enjoy the genetic side of it. And there’s production criteria that is measured. As people come around, they walk through your herd, and you hear things. I don’t get around to a lot of other herds.”

Growing up on the farm naturally led Alfred to his role as successor to the family business. When asked if he ever considered a different career, Alfred said, “Well, I wanted to play baseball, but it was pretty evident early on that wasn’t going to happen.”

Instead, he learned from his father and focused on the dairy industry’s developments. “It’s continually evolving,” Alfred said. “There’s a lot more technology than there ever has been. We have activity monitors on the cows to tell when they’re sick, in heat to be bred, and all those things. The cows used to just be on pastures. Now, they’re in more of a controlled environment, with fans and sprinklers to keep them cool. Genetics have improved immensely, and we control their nutrition so much better.”

Alfred embraced the changes and incorporated technology to improve the efficiency of the operation. “Herds are so large and efficient now,” he said. “They do a wonderful job of taking care of cows and getting production because they can train one person to do one job. On a small farm, you’ve got to be a jack of all trades, from lead mechanic and milker to poop-scraper. Larger farms have one person in charge of the nursery, and he may have five people under him. All they do is take care of baby calves. That’s changed herds nowadays.”

Larger farms with 10,000 to 25,000 cows squeeze smaller operations, but Alfred said there’s still room for small herds to be successful. “You just have to be very efficient and careful with your spending,” he added.

Brandt Dairy has been a central part of the community, specifically as a place for young minds to explore.

“A lot of people just want to bring their kids out just to watch us milk because it’s unique, and people need to know where their food comes from,” Alfred said, noting the farm has hosted tours for thousands of kids over the years, including farmers from other countries such as Armenia, South Korea, and Japan, FFA, 4H, Scouts, and kindergarten classes. “I’m grateful we could share our knowledge of and love for the dairy industry.”

Despite being located only a few minutes outside of Linn, Brandt Dairy is still unknown to some. “Even some people that live in Linn have never been on a farm, and I saw a statistic last week that said that 54 percent of all people 24 or younger have never seen an actual live cow.”

A study by the Innovation Center of US Dairy found that 7% of Americans believe chocolate milk comes from brown cows.

In his Facebook post, Alfred wrote, “I am thankful for the photographers, videographers, news media, and student reporters who have come to learn about the farm and share what goes on at a family farm with others. A very special thanks to Sonya and Sam, without whose love and constant help and support none of this would have been possible.”

For many years, Alfred was a confirmed bachelor but noted that things change when the right person comes along.

“Sonya has been tremendously supportive of everything I’ve done on the farm,” Alfred said. “Sam has grown up with the farm and helps with whatever we need.”

Deciding to sell the herd and cease operations wasn’t easy. “It was very emotional,” Alfred said. “But I got nothing but support. Sonya would have been fine if I kept on going, but she understands. She sees how hard it is, and I feel like I owe it to them to spend more time with them.”

Alfred said he considered holding on until Sam was ready to take over the operation. “If he had a true interest, I probably would have, but — and I don’t mean this to be a negative — but the way the dairy industry is trending, it’s not going to be there in 20 years. It’ll be very difficult for a small farm. If I were going to keep going, I would probably put in robots because labor is getting expensive. I’m so thankful for State Tech and being able to get that part-time help because a lot of other places don’t have that at all. If you’ve got to depend on local high school kids, you know, they’re so active and there’s just not that many of them. There’s other opportunities for them. And it’s not like it was when we were teenagers. Kids don’t have to work anymore. Honestly, their parents don’t make them get jobs. They tell them to concentrate on their schoolwork and whatever. But everybody I ever knew that made straight As also had a job and learned time management.”

Brandt Dairy may not operate as a milk farm, but Alfred said he will continue to farm. “This farm has been in our family since 1840, and we are not going anywhere,” he said. “I kept my open heifers, which haven’t been bred yet. They don’t produce milk until they have a calf.”

Alfred plans to sell heifers to others, and pass on the responsibility of finishing the process until they become milk cows.

However, he’s happy to embrace the change in his daily life. “I’ve always known I had to milk twice a day, and at three o’clock, it’s time to shut down whatever else you’re doing and start mixing feed,” Alfred said. “It’ll be kind of nice to have a summer vacation without having to rush back and get everything done.”

For many years, Alfred awoke each day with a task list. “The very first thing that enters my head is what day it is and what has to be done,” he explained, noting that he anticipates having this ritual for a while. “I’ve always kind of wondered how the rest of the world lives not having to work for four hours before you go to church on a Sunday morning. That’s just regular day-to-day business. That doesn’t account for emergencies.”

Alfred joked that instead of waking at the customary 5:30 a.m., he may sleep in until 6. “Every single morning, I was milking cows, and it’s gonna be long mornings without that,” he said.

Aside from spending time with his family and perhaps taking a few unhurried trips abroad that aren’t focused on the National Cattlemen’s Association and related meetings, Alfred is considering other opportunities.

“I am truly going to miss the constant activity, but I have received some offers for future opportunities in the dairy industry that interest me,” he noted. “I don’t know exactly what the future holds, except God willing, more free time and the ability to watch my son’s ballgames without having to rush home to do chores.”

Alfred thanked many people on Facebook. “I am also thankful to … the veterinarians who have cared for my cows; the semen salesmen, foot-trimmers, and farm supply personnel; the feed providers and nutritionists who have helped me to have one of the highest producing dairy herds in the state; my brothers, uncles, and other relatives, as well as our friends and neighbors who have helped out and loaned equipment; and the milk haulers who have braved all kinds of weather to get our product out — in 60 years, we never had to dump any milk due to the failure of a milk hauler. I am thankful to the service people who have kept our equipment going and for my fellow Dairymen for their fellowship and support.”