Kilgus Dairy has been in operation since 1950′s, when Duane and Arlene Kilgus bought their first holstein cow. After growing the holstein herd for many years, the Kilgus family decided to do a gradual switch over of the herd to Jersey cows in the mid 90′s. Since then we haven’t looked back enjoying the scenes of the small, docile, brown cows grazing the lush grasses of central Illinois.
The other big management switch on our dairy farm we made was made over seven years ago when we took over 50 acres of good black soil for growing corn and soybeans and turned it into a field of seventeen, two and a half acre paddocks of lush rye grass, orchard grass, and clover for our cows to graze on. This was one or the biggest changes we had ever made on the farm, but it has been one that has benefited our cows as well as ourselves in many different ways. From April until late November, our cows are out grazing in the pastures. Our cows are rotated to a fresh paddock of grass every 24 hours. This allows them to eat a paddock down and then it allows that paddock to grow back for two weeks until they graze it again. We will mow the paddocks a few times every year to help keep the grass fresh and to keep weeds from growing in the paddocks. No chemicals are ever sprayed on our grasses, all weed control is done by mowing the paddocks down.
What are the benefits we’ve seen from the pasture system? We’ve seen numerous improvements in our herd since we started pasturing seven years ago.
- We have healthier cows, with a life expectancy of over 8 years. This is because the cows are off of concrete lots and its easier on their feet and legs. They also stay much healthier when out in the fresh air.
- We spend less on traditional feed, and have calculated that our costs per hundred weight of milk are around $11 (where confinement operations may be $14-15 cwt).
- The cows do all their own harvesting of the pasture and we aren’t out burning fuel to harvest the feed for them to eat in the barn. At the same time they are eating they are spreading their waste back on the land to supply fertilizer back to the pastures.
- With cows living longer we’ve been able to increase our herd numbers from within our herd.
- Frankly, there’s few sites prettier than a herd of Jersey cows on a green pasture!
In 2004, Justin and Trent Kilgus established a small meat goat operation as part of a 4-H project, and built a large permanent hoop structure for the goats through a grant for small farms supplying products to Chicago restaurants. They now have 140 goats and sell goat meat to some of the best restaurants in Chicago (see products section).
In June of 2009 we started bottling our own milk on farm. This is something as a family we decided to do to help bring more family members into the business. This is something we saw a real need for in Illinois because there were no other farmstead bottlers in the state when we started bottling. We wanted to offer a single source product to Illinois consumers. Why not bottle and share Kilgus Jersey milk with consumers that are interested in healthy, local products? The bottling plant was designed to incorporate an on-farm store, including a viewing window that would allow visitors to observe the whole bottling operation. Equipment allows the bottling of milk, but also the production of soft serve ice cream mix. All Kilgus Farmstead Creamery and Meat products are available in our on-farm store, as well as selected cheeses and specialty products.
It All Starts With the Cows
On the farm, we have 130 registered Jersey milking cows, 75 calves and heifers (or young female cows), and 25 steers. Jersey cows are light brown and smaller than Holsteins. As a breed, they also give less milk than their black and white counterparts, but their milk is highly prized by cheesemakers, chefs, and others because of its increased protein and calcium. We think – and many of out customers agree – that Jersey milk tastes better, and we encourage you to taste the different in our milk.
Our cows are out on pasture starting in April, lasting through the summer, and enjoy pasture grass until November. During the winter months the cows are fed a ration of non-GMO corn silage that we grow here on the farm, as well as a variety of grass hay, and alfalfa hay that we grow. Each day after morning milking, the cows are led out into their pasture where water is also available; they return to the barn for the evening milking.
Only Kilgus Dairy milk goes into Kilgus Farmstead Creamery products. We are the only single source farmstead milk bottling plant in Central Illinois, and our products are all sold within 150 miles of our farm to insure freshness and customer trust.