The Boersma family that operates Forget-Me-Not Farm, the 2016 Dairy Farm of the Year, is a relative newcomer to Kansas, having arrived in 2008. But their family roots in dairy go back to the early 1930s.
"My dad's uncle started out in dairying in California back in the 1930s," says Ted Boersma, the patriarch of the family operating Forget-Me-Not Farm near Cimarron.
Ted got involved in dairying with his dad, Andy, in 1984 when they started A&T Diary near Bosque, New Mexico, milking 140 cows.
The operation -- and the family -- grew and grew. They moved to a new location in Clovis in 1993 and added another dairy farm in 2000. The milking operation expanded to more than 4,800 cows and the family grew to include eight daughters and one son, the youngest of the brood.
A growing number of those family members wanted to be part of a family dairy farm operation.
"I knew that we needed to look for wide open spaces with room for expansion," Ted says. "In New Mexico, the only way to expand was to add a third dairy farm. But in Kansas, we had the opportunity to build bigger and have everything at one location."
Lots of space, opportunity
He said he liked the idea that the Cimarron location offered lots of space, more available feed supplies, closer milk processing facilities and ag-friendly communities with a pro-ag business environment.
The move was made in stages.
His wife, Nancy, and their youngest children, twins getting ready to enter 9th grade and a son ready for 7th grade, moved to Cimarron in 2007 so the kids could start those important grades in their new hometown.
The rest of the family stayed behind in Clovis to complete the sale of the properties there and await the completion of the Cimarron dairy, which feature two 3,500-cow facilities, each with its own rotary milking parlor.
When construction was done and the New Mexico sale complete, Ted moved to Kansas, bringing 5,000 cows with him. By 2011, they added 2,000 more cows to reach capacity.
The herds for the two milking parlors are kept separate, which allows them to experiment with different programs and feeding rations and compare herd performance.
In 2015, they added a second farm near McCook, Nebraska, with 1,200 cows. The Cimarron dairy produces about 11 tanker trucks of milk per day while the Nebraska operation producers two to three more.
Technology marches on
Technology changes are a part of daily life, but Ted says he is not yet comfortable with the coming trend of robotics.
"I know that it’s a game changer and it's coming," he said. "But I am old-school. I like to watch the cows as they leave the parlor and to watch those last cows that lag behind. That's where you see a cow with problems, with a sore foot or who just isn't feeling well. I want to be in touch with the animals and when you move to robotics, you lose that."
He said, however, that the move to robotics is probably the wave of the future and the younger generation will embrace the technology, just as he has embraced the changes of his generation.
Ted Boersma says he is proud to be a "factory" farm and equally proud to be a "family" dairy farm, capable of offering a spot for any one of his nine kids and their spouses who want to join the operation.
His third daughter, Naci, and her husband Josh Littlejohn, were among the first to join the operation, Naci as office manager and Josh as part of the management team.
Naci's decision to homeschool her children in 2015 meant she backed off on time in the office, opening up space for her younger sister, Kelsi, to assume the lead role in office manager. But the corner space full of kids' toys is still there and grandkids still get time on Ted's lap as he does computer work.
"Naci moved some of her toys out and Kelsi is moving hers in," Ted says. "There are still kids in this office a lot of the time."
Daughter, Aundi and her husband, T.J. Curtis, have also joined the dairy operation. Daughter, Tayley, who will graduate in May from veterinary school at K-State, plans to join the operation and eventually become the dairy's chief vet. But first, she and her husband plan to welcome the 17th grandchild for Ted and Nancy in August.
Daughters Britney and Whitney, have also completed their master's degrees at K-State and youngest son, Ted, has a bachelor's in business and marketing. All have expressed interest in joining the family operation some day.
Workers are important too
But it's not just family that Ted Boersma hopes to keep involved in Forget-Me-Not Farm. It's everybody who works there.
"Most of my workers have been here since we opened," he says.
Most are Hispanic immigrants with families and they are part of the close-knit operation.
This year, he is moving up one of his long-time employees to a position he is called "on-boarder." It will be his job to offer introductory training to new employees and handle exit interviews for any employees who leave.
"If someone chooses to leave us, we want to know why. We want to offer a good work environment and good opportunity for our employees to succeed," he said.
The Forget-Me-Not name stems from the Boersma family's deep commitment to their Christian values. The office décor includes a plaque with the verse from Deuteronomy where God reminds the Israelites to remember him when they are settled in the Promised Land and their barns are full, their fields are fertile and times are good.
Ted says the verse also reminds him that the left friends and family members behind in New Mexico and they want to be remembered there.
Beyond the focus on family, the Boersmas have assumed a leadership role in the community and the dairy industry.
Ted is currently serving as president of the Kansas Dairy Commission and vice-president of the Kansas Dairy Association. He is also a member of the Southwest Dairy Museum Board of Directors. TJ Curtis is a past member and Chairman of the Kansas Livestock Dairy Council and is serving on its board of directors. Josh Littlejohn is on the Dairy Advisory Committee of the Kansas Farm Bureau.