Things have come full circle for Steve Koelsch and his family. The Koelsches have been named 2013 Farm Family of the Year, an honor Steve has held twice.
“In 1972, Dad and Mom were the Farm Family of the Year,” Steve said. “I was just a kid.”
Now the head of his own family farm, Steve and his family were selected for the honor by the Mayes County Fair Board.
The Koelsches are in the dairy business. Steve has a bachelor’s degree in Dairy Science.
“My grandfather and my father both did dairy,” he said. “It might go back farther than that, but that’s all I know about.”
Steve used to work for Howard Kleeman at his dairy before venturing out on his own in 1994.
“If I was gonna work that hard for someone else, I’d just go on and do it myself,” he said. “We rented a farm at Boatman that already had a dairy on site.”
At the time, Steve was working in dairy sales, so he kept his eyes open for equipment he needed to get the dairy up and running.
In the early days, the couple had 13 milk cows. Now, they milk 130 head twice a day.
The milk goes straight from the cow to refrigerated tanks where it’s picked up every other day.
“Our milk goes to Seneca, Mo.,” Steve said.
Over the years, the couple has worked the dairy as well as having jobs outside the home. Steve went full-time with the dairy in 2000.
Laura taught school in Locust Grove for four years before making the decision to stay home to parent their three children and work in the dairy.
When the lease was up on the Boatman dairy, the couple bought a place near Miller’s Corner at a sheriff’s auction.
Plans changed again, however, and the couple ended up selling the land and building a house on the family acreage. They closed the dairy and ran beef cattle for a time.
“We went back into the dairy business in September 2009,” Steve said. He also runs a chemical route for IBA Inc. to 50 or 60 dairy customers in the area. IBA has an extensive product line with many items that are exclusively sold by the IBA Dealer/Technician.
With the kids nearly grown, Laura decided to go back to work and began teaching first grade at Chouteau this year.
The Koelsches routinely spend nearly $20,000 per month in feed alone for their herd. Corn prices have skyrocketed since the ethanol boom, making corn tough to get and expensive.
“I used to spend $120 a ton for corn. Now it’s over $300 a ton,” he said. “Farmers now have to compete with ethanol makers for the corn.”
The mild, wet summer has been a blessing to dairy farmers all over the state.
“We’ve got grain, grass and corn because of the rain,” Steve said.
All three of the Koelsch kids know their way around a dairy. Garrett is 19 and a college student. Nathan is 17 and works outside the home. Katie is 15 and attends high school.
“They all showed cattle at the fair growing up,” Laura said.
In the family dairy business, Garrett was known for working hay, Nathan was hands-on with the milking and Katie liked to take care of the young calves.
With the kids branching out, the couple has some help to make sure everything gets done.
“My nephew and his wife, Jake and Nicole Bales, help us as well as Michael McFarland,” he said.
Steve said he enjoys making his chemical route and likes visiting with other dairy farmers.
“Dairies are just disappearing in this area,” he said. “They are a great bunch of people and we help each other out the best we can.”