Farm Horizons, September 2001

For the Stifters, farming is about family

By Patrice Waldron

When asking the question, "Why are you a . . . nurse, teacher, auto mechanic, whatever the profession - there are bound to be a variety of responses.

When talking with members of the Matt Stifter family of Victor Township, it is easy to see why they run the family farm - for them, farming means family.

Matt is the son of Mae and the late Norbert Stifter. Matt, his wife Cyndi, and teenagers Eric, Rick, and Mandi are all very involved in running the family farm.

They have a herd of Jersey cows, 44 which they currently milk, about 20 which will eventually go to market. About 10 heifers and a dozen calves were added to the numbers this spring.

The herd is ever changing and growing. Mandi's primary job is to take care of the calves.

In summer, Matt, Rick, and Mandi took two calves to St. Mary's Care Center in Winsted for residents to enjoy as part of a dairy month promotion.

Another part of the family tradition is Mae serving root beer floats to the residents as they enjoyed seeing the gentle calves and visiting with Rick and Mandi.

Since Norb was a resident at St. Mary's at the time (due to a foot injury), there were three generations together that day. It was a time to visit, and it was also a time to share their family with others.

The love and affection Mandi has for the calves were evident that day, and also at the farm.

An active 4-H member over the years, and after spending many hours in the barn, she is very knowledgeable about the calves, and knows what they need for a healthy start.

Rick is also very helpful on the farm, and active in 4-H. Recently, at the state fair, the two-year-old cow he presented earned a blue ribbon. Even when the cow had a mind of its own, he directed her and kept her steady.

Cyndi has many jobs with the family, and is right there in the middle of things. When the Wright County 4-H group went to the state fair, she was one of the chaperones to the 19 youth.

Eric has shown cows over the years, twice competing at the state fair. This year he attended the fair as part of the 4-H dairy judging team.

While at the fair, and after an interviewing process, Eric was chosen as one of 20 students to attend the National Dairy Conference in Madison, Wis., in October.

The names of those students honored with being chosen to attend the expo were announced during the 4-H dairy events at the fair.

The farm and the cows keep everyone busy, and even if it means getting up at 3 a.m. to milk the cows, the chores get done and everyone goes to the fair.

As with everything else in life, there have been ups and downs this year. The loss of Norb was very difficult, but the cows still need to be milked, and the crops still need to be planted and harvested.

Another recent setback was the loss of a combine, with only part of the barley crop harvested.

What started out as a little smoke turned out to be much more. Matt was able to grab the cell phone out of the cab and dial 911, but it wasn't long before the flames took over. The combine's fuel tank blew.

When the machine was smoldering the next day and another call to the fire department was made, the machine was declared a total loss.

The rest of the crop was harvested with the help of a local business whose service it is to help in such times.

More of the family was on-hand for the harvest. Matt's brother, Danny, and his son, Levi, came from Aitkin to help with the extra fall work.

The knowledge of farming, and the importance of family has passed from Norb to Matt, and is being shared with the grandchildren, too.

It seems Norb was ahead of his time in some of his farming practices.

"Intensive grazing is becoming common now, but my dad was practicing it 60 years ago," Matt said.

From the barley field, you could look over the slope and see a group of cows grazing. The property is fenced, and the cows can walk up to the barn or go down to graze as they wish, Matt explained.

The land for grazing and the crop land is rotated every couple years, so it stays fertile. There are 350 acres of crops planted each year.

The Stifters also put knowledge to work in raising Jersey cows instead of the much more common Holstein cows.

The milk of Jersey cows is much higher in butterfat content than is the milk from the Holsteins, so the farmer raising Jersey cows earns more money for the milk produced.

"The higher price per pound for milk is one reason we've been raising Jerseys," Matt said.

Mae loves to talk about her family, farm, and share memories of Norb.

Friendly and generous, she's quick to offer a kind word, or a bite to eat.

A lot of care seems to have been spread from the house to the family members, the cows, and the land.

In the barn, while Matt took care of the evening milking, Mandi gave an extremely thorough genealogical history of the soft brown herd.

Along with names, which cows she or Rick took to the fair, she could also trace many cows back to the grandma cow -which had bore many calves.

Whenever Mandi faltered, Matt was quick to jump in with the information.

As Mandi pointed out who was who as the cows came in from the pasture, Matt commented that we were in one of his Dad's (Norb) favorite places.

"Dad would look out (the back of the barn) in the evening, and ask (the Lord) what we completed that day," Matt said.

The strength of the family, sharing the work, and giving something to others was visible in each member of the family.

Levi, visiting the farm with his father, Danny, acted as a tour guide, showing another young visitor to the farm where all the "cool" stuff was.

There was a barn tour, a tour of the other barn which holds the large machinery, and lots of "come see this."

A lot of very hard work goes into running a farm. Many farms share common tasks, such as automated milkers, the powder mixture to make up for the calves, the crops, tractors, and more.

Even with the common elements, each farm is different. The Stifter farm is run by several generations of people who love the farm. The traditions started years ago by Norb and Mae are now carried on by the other family members.

Their family ties help keep them going, make the work a little easier, and lend to sharing what they have with others.

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