Chatfield residents chosen as Olmsted County Farm Family of the Year

Chatfield residents and local farmers, the Hoffman family has been honored as a 2018 Farm Family of the Year for Olmsted County. In front are Garret, at left, and Tira Hoffman. In the middle row are Jo, Bridget, Danielle with August and John Hoffman. In back are Gary, at left, and Corey Hoffman. SUBMITTED PHOTO
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Welcome back to Hoffman’s Inn & Suites.

The bedding is sandy, the fans are eight feet wide, the back-scratcher is always on and the feed is field-fresh.

Bathrobes are optional.

“Cow comfort is a big thing – I like to see cows on grass, but here, they’re inside where they’re out of the sun, they have big fans to keep them cool, when it’s raining, we don’t have to go get them, and even though it’s not as warm as the old stall barn, they’re able to keep warm,” said dairy farmer Gary Hoffman, of North Creek Dairy. The farm is located on Highway 30 west of Chatfield.

The farm is now an award-winning hotel for cows, and that’s what’s gotten the Hoffman family honors and recognition by the University of Minnesota Farm Family Recognition Program as the 2018 U of M Farm Family of the Year on Aug. 9. These Olmsted County residents operating the farm include Gary and his wife, Jo; son, John, and his wife, Danielle, and their son August; and son, Corey, and his wife, Bridget, and their children, Garret and Tira.

Rep. Nels Pierson of Stewartville, extended his congratulations to the family in a press release. “Congratulations to the Hoffman family and North Creek Dairy on being named this year’s Olmsted County Farm Family of the Year. Growing up on a family farm, I have the utmost respect for our agriculture workers and the enormous impact their hard work has on our local and state economies. The Hoffmans run a highly successful farm and dairy operation and are certainly deserving of this recognition.”

A U of M release continued, “Brothers John and Corey Hoffman and their families operate North Creek Dairy. The farm has been in the Hoffman family since 1905 and consists of 400 acres and 420 milking cows. The Farm Family Recognition Program is coordinated by the University of Minnesota Extension; the College of Food, Agriculture and Natural Resources Sciences; and the College of Veterinary Medicine and recognizes families from Minnesota’s 87 counties who have made significant contributions to Minnesota agriculture and their communities.”

The dairy farm, which began as a 160-acre small family farm with a traditional stanchion barn and now has a milking operation big enough for over 400 head, is still a family farm, according to Gary. It was his father’s and uncle’s operation when they, two of nine children, took it over at the occasion of his grandfather’s sudden passing.

“I’ve always lived here. The fifth generation is living here…our grandson is the fifth generation,” Gary said. “My grandpa, August Hoffman, and my grandma, Ida, started the farm in 1903, and it had a little bit of everything – it was the typical farm of the early 1900s. He died when my dad, Art, was 9 years old. Dad had one older brother and one younger brother, and his older brother took over farming when he was 14 or 15. His younger brother wasn’t interested in farming, and his older brother was later killed in a farming accident.”

Art and Tira Hoffman operated the farm until Art’s death 23 years ago, but Gary began running farm business as a high school freshman, graduating in 1963 and planning to attend college to become a veterinarian.

More than 50 years later, Gary still keeps an eye on the barn. “Dad was active on the farm until he died in 1990,” he said. “He had his first heart attack when I was a freshman in high school, and he had another one the year I graduated. I thought I’d take a year off to help on the farm, but I never left. Dad had bypass surgery, and he was done milking by 1960.”

Gary explained the farm had a lot of beef cattle and, at the time, didn’t milk more than 14 cows. There were also chickens and hogs.

“It wasn’t long after my dad had his first heart attack that Mom got rid of the hogs and the beef cattle, and the chickens weren’t around very long after that, even. It was within days that she got rid of the hogs,” he said.

Gary admitted he doesn’t regret not having gone out for high school sports and he wasn’t particularly fond of Holsteins or anything on the hoof at that point in his life.

“When I started milking, I didn’t care about cows then, but they grew on me,” he said. “I like dairy better than beef…they’re something you grow to like, and I also like that there’s a paycheck every two weeks instead of waiting for once a year with beef. If you’ve got beef, you can use that paycheck to go out and get the big things you’ve been waiting on for a long time, but with dairy, you’ve got a paycheck to count on.”

Gary and his bride married in 1968, and Jo adjusted to farm life and the very early morning to sundown hours. “She lived in Rochester, and her parents lived in Burnsville at the time,” he remarked.

John and Corey grew up on the farm and are committed to the cows and corn, having taken over most of the heavy work to be done each day.

Gary commented, “I like seeing farms handed down from generation to generation, but a lot of farm families I remember living here for a few generations are gone. There are still a few around here. I told my boys they could do whatever they wanted to do – I wanted them to go to college – but they decided that they wanted to farm. If they want to farm, I’ll give them that opportunity.”

Like other dairy operations, the Hoffmans’ farm has undergone and weathered changes since it was started. “Farming is a way of life, but you’ve got to do it as a business, too,” Gary said. “I spend more time at my desk in a week than I used to in one year. It’s hard to stay on top of the technology, but the boys are into all that and they handle it. They do most of the major day to day things.”

Occasionally, Gary and his sons have escaped to fish at Devil’s Lake, N.D., long enough to take a break from thinking about milk quality and crop prospects, but they come home ready to return to their contented cows.

When planning to upgrade their facilities to a modern parlor and barn, the Hoffmans toured “probably over 100 barns here to Wisconsin, California and Texas,” bringing home the most useful information and incorporating it into their new operation.

They moved their herd into the AA milking parlor on June 25, 2007, introducing the cows to a barn complete with giant fans, plenty of sand bedding and room to roam and even an automatic “cow scratcher” that gives the milkers a good rubdown if they feel an itch.

“We had 75 to 80 head when we moved in, and it was a bigger change for us than for the cows. The first milking wasn’t fun, though. There was a guy who had never seen a milking parlor who said that ‘those cows will know after six milkings.’ It was weird for quite a while,” Gary said.

John got married just about the time the Hoffmans were moving into the barn, and they had everything ready.

“After his reception, we got out of our monkey suits and got our overalls and went to the barn to milk,” Gary recalled. “The new barn and parlor…we thought it was the right decision when we made it. It’s really been interesting to see the production increase in the new barn. We thought we were doing well in the old barn, but once the herd got into cow comfort, we couldn’t believe it. And we thought the cows were quiet in the old barn, but they’re so much happier here that they’re even quieter.”

The Hoffmans milk three times a day, with their workday historically beginning at 3:30 a.m. — when the cows are just waking up from a midnight nap and the rest of the world is asleep and dreaming of ice cream and milk and cookies — and ending sometime after 9 p.m., meaning every ounce of milk that leaves the farm is a product of which they feel proud.

“Being part of the food industry has challenges and rewards,” Gary said. “I walk into a grocery store and see a gallon of milk and think, ‘Did that come from my farm?’”

He concluded that while his cows may not be staying at a Hilton or The Ritz, they’re happy with their indoor accommodations.

“We take care of our cows, try to treat them humanely. Anyone milking cows on a farm of any size takes care of them, because if they don’t, they won’t produce milk or an income,” Gary said.

He added that land stewardship is as important as good animal care. “We have to take care of this ground. We may not do everything right, but we try to take care of things so we leave the world a better place than when we came into it.”