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Rehder Farms: ‘There is life after dairy’

Karma Metzler Fitzgerald Published on 29 August 2012

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Editor’s note: As part of Progressive Dairyman’s 25th anniversary celebration, we’ve checked back in with the producers and businesses we’ve profiled over the years. We profiled Rehder Farms of Cottonwood, Idaho, in March 1990.

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There are two rows of letters stuck to the door leading from the tank room to the parlor at Rehder Dairy. They read, “Happy Place.”

Cows haven’t been milked here in almost a decade, but the Rehder family still loves the dairy business and takes pride in an industry that directed their lives for more than 30 years.

Back in 1990, when publisher Leon Leavitt profiled the dairy for Progressive Dairyman , Rehder Farms was in its 92nd month of winning a quality award for Darigold.

They’d just won the Idaho Dairy Milk Quality Award from United Dairymen of Idaho – an award they would end up winning three years in a row.

The trophies and plaques hang in Kevin Rehder’s garages. He said it was an Irish Catholic priest, Tom Ryan, who inspired him to always strive for the best in quality animal care.

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“He led 4-H clubs and had such a love for cattle,” Kevin said. “He had this pure love and connection for how to care for them.”

Kevin said it’s that commitment to quality that led to success in the Rehder’s dairy operation.

“We kept the somatic cell count under 100,000 for 20 years. Healthy cows, happy farmers,” Kevin said. He loved watching the cows change, eventually doubling their production.

“You could look down the length of the bunk and the udders were identical.”

Tim Ridinger of Shoshone, Idaho, hauled hay from southern Idaho to the Rehders’ farm and remembers the dairy as a nice family operation.

“It was a real efficient operation. They were really helpful and easy to work with,” Ridinger said.

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Rehder Dairy was, above all else, a family operation. Everyone was deeply involved, especially the wives.

“They provided countless hours of milking, calf feeding, book work and raising children.It couldn’t have been done without them,” he said.

Kevin says he hasn’t forgotten the hard work of managing a dairy but admits to enjoying the free time he now has to spend with family.

“Dairy is a way of life,” he said. “You live it 24 hours a day.”

These days, Kevin teaches at the North Idaho Correctional Institution, just down the road from the family farms.

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His brothers, with whom he worked side-by-side on the dairy, are still in agriculture. The elder of Rehder Farms, Kevin’s dad, Lee, is 89 years old and still lives on the farm near his children and grandchildren.

Until the farm sold in 2003, Lee was in the barn every day – helping where he could and actively involved in the operation.

Kevin’s mom, Barbara, said she had tears in her eyes when the last cow was loaded on a semi and taken away. Kevin’s wife, Kathy, agreed.

“It was a sad day,” Kathy said.

But the bottom line didn’t give the Rehders many choices. By 2003, Rehder Farms was one of the last dairies in north-central Idaho. The closest processor was over three hours away in Spokane, Washington.

It was costing too much to haul the dairy’s milk to Spokane, and feed expenses were on the rise. Kevin Rehder said they weren’t in a position to expand the dairy to the point they would need to in order to support the four families involved. While they held onto the farm and timberland, the dairy operation had to be shuttered.

“Four other dairies ended within five years after us. I guess we started the phaseout,” Kevin said. “Our infrastructure needed updating and the cost and long-term outlook didn’t make good business sense. We did manage to capitalize on a good cow and heifer market at that time.”

The barns and sheds that held the 100 or so dairy cows, calves and replacements are closed but still standing. There is a memory to go with each one – the hired hand who could carry a hay bale in each arm and one in his teeth and the hole in the hay shed where that same hand had to punch his way out after getting stuck in the loft – it’s clean, peaceful and quiet.

The Rehder brothers still make a living in this prairie of rolling hills and wheat fields – but the work hours are a little different and the challenges have little to do with milking cows in a north Idaho blizzard.

“There is life after dairy,” Kevin said. PD

Rehder Dairy: Then and Now

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March 1990
LEON LEAVITT
Milking:
90 registered Holsteins in a double-five herringbone
Employees: Kevin, Ron, Lee and Ken Rehder and their families

“I first visited Rehder Dairy way back in 1974 when I was a route salesman/representative for Carnation Genetics. Then, as well as when I did the story on them a few years ago, has always made an impression on me. First of all, their diligence in cleanliness – the milking equipment, milk parlor, corrals, runways and the cows themselves.

Everyone carried their share of the load and all felt a responsibility. I was impressed with the feeling of unity and cooperation among the brothers. They ran a tight ship and managed their complete dairy operation professionally.

You don’t have to milk 1,000, 2,000, 5,000 or whatever in order to make dairying a success. I would challenge any of the larger dairies to match (or even excel) Rehder Dairy’s record for milk quality. They indeed had ‘their ducks in a row.’”

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June 2012
KARMA FITZGERALD
Milking:
0
Employees:
0

While Lee and Barbara Rehder are now retired full-time, the family still owns and manages 1,100 acres of farm and timberland.

In addition, Kevin now teaches school, Ron continues to ranch with his family and Ken is a parts man for a local excavator.

“I knew of Rehder Dairy long before I met a member of the family. I had always heard about the quality of their milk and their cows. My husband and his brothers had purchased calves from the Rehders in the early 1980s and their progeny are still thriving in our dairy.

“After meeting them, I can see their attention to detail and high quality. Most importantly, they are clearly a close-knit and hard-working family whose dedication to their land and livestock is admirable. Their farm is breathtakingly beautiful and the kindness and warmth I felt while visiting was inspirational.”

PHOTOS
TOP RIGHT: March 1990 cover of Progressive Dairyman
BOTTOM RIGHT: Pictured are Lee and Kevin Rehder on their farm near
Cottonwood, Idaho, this summer. Photo by PD staff.

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