It’s been more than 100 years since the Henke family moved to North Dakota and began raising dairy cows — and soon, the fourth generation will be taking over the Henke Dairy Farm — now the last dairy farm in Oliver County.
Twice a day, 365 days a year, these cows need to be milked.
It’s been this way since 1907, although the technology has certainly changed.
Here on the Henke farm, approximately 175 cows are milked daily. The milk goes directly from the cow’s udder into a large tank and then every two days, it’s picked up and taken to the milk plant in Bismarck where it’s processed and sold locally.
The life of a dairy farmer is not an easy one, but 19-year-old Wilton Henke says he’s looking forward to the day when he will become the next generation to take over the family business.
“A lot of times the younger generation that takes over the farm, they want to move on from it…move into beef and other things. It’s definitely a hard way to make a living. There’s a lot of labor involved it takes up a lot of your time and labor bills can get fairly expensive,” Wilton said.
North Dakota isn’t known as a dairy state, but it’s making efforts to increase the number of dairy farmers.
Two years ago, the dairy industry was concerned about its future when Dean Foods declared bankruptcy, but Prairie Farms bought what had been the Dean Foods milk plant in Bismarck and has operated it since.
“I was born into it. I really don’t know a whole lot else. Big part of my life and I intend to continue it,” said Wilton.
He says there may come a day when the farm will need to change its focus — perhaps from dairy cows to raising beef.
But for the foreseeable future, he’s confident the need for fresh milk will keep the name dairy in the Henke Dairy Farm operation.
In addition to the dairy herd, the Henkes have 2,400 acres of cropland that’s used to grow crops to feed the cows.