Lyle had a stake in dairy early on. His parents, Louis and Melba Honebrink, milked cows, along with raising chickens and hogs farrow to finish. Lyle and his older brother, Larry, did chores around the farm. In high school they got their own patron numbers with the local creamery.
“I would ship my own can of milk every day,” said the Mayer dairyman. “That’s how I got started.”
When he was a junior in high school, his dad sold the dairy cows. “We still had hogs and beef cattle, and I would help the neighbors with their cows—I stayed involved in dairy one way or the other.”
Then, in 1976, Lyle bought seven dairy heifers and his dad helped him remodel the farm’s original barn, which was part log, to start milking again. From that point:
- 1977—Lyle and Wanda married. Wanda grew up on a dairy farm near Gibbon. The Honebrink herd numbered 26 by that time.
- 1979—Lyle and Wanda bought the family dairy and paid for an addition to the barn, which brought the herd up to 46.
- 1990—The Honebrinks built their house on the farm.
- 1992—They built a calf barn.
- 1993—They bought a neighboring farm, adding to their feed production capacity.
- 1995—They remodeled a pole barn and installed free stalls for the dairy cows.
- 1996—They expanded their dairy herd to 75.
- 2002—They built a free-stall barn with a double six parabone milking parlor, and in subsequent years, the Honebrink’s herd reached a high of 108 cows in milk.
“We have four children—Gwen, Dean, Gail and David—and all of them did chores,” said Wanda, who remembers a time when they hand-fed grain to the herd seven times per day.
“That really made milk,” recalled Lyle.
When their last child was a senior in high school, they had to come up with something that didn’t require as much labor. So, in 2002, they expanded by building a new free-stall barn and a milking parlor. The expansion made things workable for Lyle and Wanda when all the kids had left home.
“Now one person can milk if they have to,” said Lyle, but it’s easier with two people. Wanda and Jennifer, Dean’s girlfriend, do the milking.
Lyle does all the feeding, scraping and grooming stalls, with some help from their son, Dean. Dean is an accomplished mechanic, and operates a shop on the family farm, fixing and fabricating equipment for the Honebrinks and their neighbors.
For the past 30 years, the Honebrinks have relied on sales nutritionist Mike Foust for advice, both for the feeding and for the management of their cattle. “If he goes to seminars, we get the benefit from it,” said Lyle.
The Honebrinks have always tried to use the top-quality protein that their supplier offers. “For instance, Munson Lakes offers different levels of starter,” explained Lyle. “We feed AMPLI-CALF.” Lyle and Wanda put up high-moisture corn and corn silage and raise their own hay. Unusual weather in the past two years resulted in a shortage of good quality hay. Mike helped them find and incorporate corn gluten pellets in their milking rations.
“That’s been very good for us,” said Lyle. “It has improved production.”
The farm’s current rolling herd average is 27,947 lbs, with a fat content of 1,249 lbs and protein of 877 lbs. That compares with a rolling herd average of 18,323 lbs, fat of 712 lbs and protein of 570 lbs back in July of 1989, according to Mike, who has kept these records from the early years of his relationship with the Honebrink Dairy.
“I’m happy with where we are and very surprised we’ve been able to make progress in the last two years with the poor hay,” said Lyle. “I’m guessing it was because of the corn gluten in the feed.”
Mike says a key to the Honebrinks’ success is their commitment. “It takes dedication, 24 hours a day and seven days a week, to run a dairy farm, and they do that.”
This dedication also extends to their community involvement. Wanda plays the organ at their church, and Lyle sings in the choir. “To do all that and run a dairy farm is remarkable,” Mike added. l