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Family features 1,300 cows, 290 acres

THREE-MAN TEAM, cousin John Tueting and brothers Keith and Ken York own and manage Merry Water Farms, N1240 Hillside Road, town of Linn.

August 20, 2013 | 01:15 PM
Thomas Ledger bought what is now the Merry Water Farm in 1852.

He then went back East to fetch his wife.

They returned two years later, built a log cabin and started farming.

In 1869, the Ledgers were prosperous enough that they built a real house on the property at N1240 Hillside Road, town of Linn.

Move on to the 21st century, and until last year, that house was probably the last thing the Ledgers would have recognized on their property.

But last year, the house was renovated with new siding.

Thomas would have to look at it really hard to recognize it now.

Thomas is the great-great-great-great grandfather of the current owners, Ken and Keith York, who are also sons of Walter and Mary York.

Ken lives in Thomas’ remodeled house.

Walter and Mary live next door in a house that was built in 1955. See related story, York a longtime staple.

Walter’s mother, Eunice, was a Ledger, joining the two families.

For a while, the farm, which is now called Merry Water Farms, was owned by the Leedle family, also relatives of the Ledgers and Yorks.

In 1965, Walter and Mary York bought the 160-acre farm.

It’s been in the York family since.

In 2012, the brothers brought their cousin, John Tueting, into partnership and bought additional farmland from their parents and their aunt and uncle.

Keith, Ken and and John manage the farm, where several interns and 24 employees milk and care for more than 1,300 cows. The farm also grows corn and alfalfa.

Keith said the milking operation is all day, every day.

“We’re either cleaning up or milking 24 hours day,” he said.

When they first began working the farm in 1992, it was 160 acres. They have since expanded it to 290 acres. But their operation is much larger than that.

Keith York said they also rent 210 acres and actually farm 500 acres.

The farm’s total herd comes to more than 2,000 cows and calves, Keith said. He said the farm is breeding beef cows, but right now the farm is just selling calves to other farms to breed and raise.

Farming still has that down home, oink-oink here and moo-moo there image to city folk.

But this farm is more like a small corporation.

Each cow produces about 90 pounds of milk a day, said Keith.

And the farm’s daily output is about 105,000 pounds, or two tanker trucks, he said.

Most of the milk winds up at Grande Cheese, Brownsville, where it’s turned into mozzarella cheese, Keith said.

Keith said he works as the general manager, and does the farm’s business planning. Ken is the personnel manager, making sure employees are trained and understand the equipment they’re using.

John is the operations manager, ensuring that everything at Merry Water is working smoothly.

Keith said he and his two partners also feel that change, that perceptible separation between managing the farm and actually operating it.

“That’s the biggest change, the hardest change,” said Keith, sitting at his computer in the farm’s air-conditioned office.

“I came from a small 50-cow dairy,” he said, sitting at his computer in the farm’s air-conditioned office. “If we wanted to get something done, we had to do it ourselves. But as operations expanded, it became harder to have free time.”

And free time is important to Keith, Ken and John, who all have families.

Keith and wife Laura have a son, Michael, 35, who is a chiropractor in Boston. Daughter Katie, 33, is a public defender in Madison.

John and wife Peggy have sons Jeremiah, 39, who is a prison guard in Las Vegas, and Joshua, 33, who is a nurse practitioner in Lake Mills. Daughter Jaclyn, 17, is a senior at Badger High School.

Ken said three of his four children work at Merry Water. Son Quinn, 28, cares for the newborn calves, Lance, 25, works as a feeder, Chantel, 23, is a recent graduate from the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, and is working in the farm’s payroll and human resources office. Daughter Fran, 27, is a student at the Medical College of Wisconsin, Milwaukee.

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