Last dairy farms in Houghton, Baraga counties get out

Garrett Neese/Daily Mining Gazette Karen Palosaari milks cows at the Rolling Acres dairy farm in Chassell Township Friday. The farm, which started in 1938, is selling off its milk cows at the end of July due to shrinking profits and rising costs.

CHASSELL TOWNSHIP — The days of a milk truck picking up shipments from farms in Baraga and Houghton counties is almost over.

The last dairy farm producing milk in Houghton County is selling its milking cows near the end of July, following one in Baraga County that sold its stock of cows last week.

The original barn was built for the Palosaaris’ Rolling Acres farm in 1938. Gary Palosaari has been running the Chassell Township farm since 1992, when he took it over from his parents.

“Costs have started prohibiting too much more going on,” said Teresa Palosaari, Gary’s wife. “So you’ve got to take the plunge and do it.”

The farm sells its milk to Jilbert’s Dairy. It now costs over $4,000 a month in shipping to take their milk to Marquette, she said.

Low milk prices have also been a factor for the past four or five years, Gary Palosaari said.

“You think you can ride it out, but then the hauling costs got so extremely high,” he said. “We’re paying a ridiculous amount of hauling because there’s not enough milk. Then when money’s tight, you can’t pay labor like you should, so everything falls on each other.”

Right now, the farm is making about $15 per 100 pounds of milk. Getting those pounds costs anywhere from $17 to $22, said the Palosaaris’ daughter-in-law Karen Palosaari, who works at the farm.

The farm lost money last year, with Palosaari using profits from his construction work to fill the hole.

The average amount of milk cows at the farm has been 81; its overall herd size now stands at 190. An average of 69 have been on test, producing milk at that time.

Currently, fifty-four cows are being milked. Those generate 75 pounds of milk per cow per day, Gary Palosaari said.

It’s sad to see the milk operation end, said Karen Palosaari. But she recognizes it’s a growing trend. In 2018, the number of dairy farms dropped by 6.5%, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

“It’s a way of life, I guess,” she said. “You’re brought up that way. It’s hard work, but it’s rewarding.”

The Palosaaris have an older tie-stall barn, which keeps the cows stationary. Milk is pumped from the cow through tubes to a pipeline, which leads out to a tank that holds more than 13,000 pounds. A secondary tank was added when the farm had more cows, but has not been necessary lately, Karen Palosaari said.

Milking is done twice a day, at 3 a.m. and 3 p.m., taking about an hour and a half. Larger farms have introduced parlors, which can milk more than 20 at a times, and carousels, which can milk around 70. Some farms are even implementing robots, which can milk cows up to five or six times a day.

With the remaining cows, there’s a possibility of a beef operation, Karen Palosaari said. Some crops will also continue at the farm, she said, though trucking costs will continue to be a factor.

Gary Palosaari said he would revisit having milk cows in two or three years.

The Johnson Dairy Farm in Baraga County ended dairy production last week. Owner Steve Johnson has been selling milk for the past 43 years. He didn’t want to get into his reasons for quitting, but said it was a tough decision.

“The day they went, it was an awful sad day,” he said. “But that’s the way it is.”