Quality time, quality milk at Wirth Dairy Farms

EVART – Doug and Melanie Wirth spent a week in Alaska last summer to celebrate their 25th wedding anniversary.

After 20 years without a vacation, the pair agreed it was due time.

“We don’t get away too often,” Melanie said. “This is a 24-7 job.”

Doug and Melanie own Wirth Dairy Farms in Evart, a 1700-acre dairy farm with five non-family employees and more than 800 cattle.

Between feeding calves in the middle of the night, completing the day’s chores, and milking cows at 5 a.m. and 5 p.m., a day in the life of the Wirth family begins and ends on the farm.

“We check the maternity pen. We go out to eat. We come back. We drive back to the pen, and then we go home,” said Jacob Wirth, 24, son of Melanie and Doug. “It’s not like we’re working between 8 and 4. It’s all blended together.”

The all-encompassing lifestyle is nothing new for the Wirth family. The farm was established more than 125 years ago and is now on its fifth generation of family farmers.

In 1887 Doug’s great-grandfather, Jacob Wirth, established the family livelihood with a barn that had room for only ten cows and six horses. It was passed down to Ezra Wirth and then to Edison and Esther Wirth, Doug’s parents. Doug Wirth, 46, now runs the farm with his wife, Melanie; son, Jacob; daugher-in-law, Andrea; daughter, Chelsea; and son, Andrew.

Chelsea and Andrea work off of the farm, but help out the rest of the family when they are home. Melanie does the business’s bookkeeping work and feeds the calves and the Wirth men work together, each completing various parts of the work every day.

“I enjoy the bookwork, but there’s such a variety of things to do,” Melanie said. “Every day is different. It’s never boring.”

Though working with family may not always be easy, the family affair creates tight bonds.

“It makes us closer,” said Chelsea, who grew up working on the farm day in and day out with her family.

The long hours put in on the Wirth farm does not go unnoticed. Their hard work is evident in the quality of the milk produced on the farm.

The farm has been given a Silver achievement award for 15 years by Michigan Milk Producers, the farm’s contracted milk distribution company.

“I don’t think the average consumer realizes that this is the best milk they can buy in any area of the country,” Doug said.

Every night when the milk is picked up, the farm receives a fax with the product’s semantic cell count. The number of sematic cells, or white blood cells, will increase If a cow has health problems.

“If that number is too high, they won’t pick up the milk,” Doug said.

The Silver award is given for a semantic cell count between 100,000 and 200,000 for 12 consecutive months.

Wirth Farms also was one of the first farms in Osceola County to reach the Michigan Agricultural Environmental Assurance Program standards, a voluntary program that helps farms of all sizes minimize agricultural pollution risks through education, risk assessment and third-party verification.

“We have gone through all three phases. It took several years to get through it,” Doug said. “I think it shows we are trying to do a decent job.”

In 2009, the Wirths built a new state-of-the-art milking parlor where they milk 350 cows twice daily, to increase animal health by decreasing the time they have to stand on their feet while they’re waiting to be milked. Innovative thinking and improvements as the business grows are necessary, Doug said.

“Every generation has to produce more than the generation before or financially we’re not going to be able to afford to stay here,” Doug said.

Doug commends other farms in the area for taking the same measures to maintain production of quality milk in the region as a whole.

“We have so many milk companies in this area because we have the milk, and it is high enough quality that they can use it in the bottling plants,” Doug said.

Though the Wirth family doesn’t get away from the farm too often, they do find time for attending church on Sunday and Melanie serves as the Osceola Township clerk.

“It’s a different way of life than what most people are used to,” Melanie said. “There’s always something to do for the farm.”

Chelsea decided to go to college at Lake Superior State University after she graduated from Evart High School and now works as a registered nurse at MidMichigan Medical Center in Clare. Her brothers, however, chose to continue working solely in the farming business after their high school graduation.

Jacob said going to college would not have compared to the enjoyment he finds working in the family business.

“Half the time I don’t know whether I’m working or playing. Most of the people we do business with are our friends,” Jacob said.

He also noted the freedom that comes outside of a traditional work environment.

“It’s nice because if I lose my job, it’s my own fault and I can’t blame anybody else,” Jacob said. “Relying on somebody else to give me a job would be hard.”

The independence associated with working in a family business also is Doug’s favorite part of his job.

“We have control over our own destiny rather than going to work for somebody else,” Doug said.

With a rich heritage and thriving business, the Wirth farmers plan to stay in the area for years to come, with the goal of continually updating and expanding.

“After 125 years we’re still here, and honestly I can’t picture doing anything else,” Doug said.