Multigenerational Iowa Dairy Finds Success Through Direct Marketing and Agritourism
Success for Hansen's Dairy of Hudson, Iowa can be summed up in one word: longevity. This multi-generational farm in Northeast Iowa has been in the Hansen family since their ancestors immigrated from Germany to the area in 1864, marking over 150 years in production agriculture.
Currently, on the seventh generation growing up on the farm, the tradition continues today with Jay and Jeanne Hansen and their children and grandchildren. Four brothers - Brent, Brad, Blair, and Blake - and their families own and manage the many different facets of the dairy. Daughter, Lynn, resides in Omaha with her family.
"One of us manages the distribution of products, one runs the creamery and makes the products, another does the crops and maintenance, and I take care of the cows and cow health," says Blake Hansen, the youngest of the brotherly quartet.
While working so closely with family can be challenging at times, Hansen says it isn't any different than any other family business.
"Of course, we have different opinions sometimes, but that's just part of life," says Hansen. "We all understand that and make the best decisions we can. We each have our own specialty and our own strengths. We aren't stepping on each other's toes all the time."
When problems do arise, Hansen says, he and his brothers take it one step at a time. Weekly meetings between the brothers and other farm staff help to keep everyone informed about farm happenings and on the same page.
According to Hansen, the dairy component was added to the farm in 1953.
In 2004, changes began to take shape on the farm with Hansen returning home to become part of the family operation. Shortly after, he and his father began researching ways to make the operation more profitable.
"My dad and I decided to look into processing our own milk to get more value out of our hard work. Basically, take out the middleman," says Hansen. "After that, we asked other siblings if they wanted to come join the farm and sure enough they did. That's how the creamery and our own processing eventually got started, too."
Having control over their processing, Hansen notes, gives the dairy more autonomy over the final product. In turn, this change in management has allowed the operation to become more lucrative, which is something of a rarity in today's dairy market, Hansen points out.
"Nowadays, milk prices are barely high enough to make even a little bit of profit. For the most part, dairy farmers are just breaking even and getting by," says Hansen.
Adding the processing facility and creamery have been major milestones for the dairy's growth and development, says Hansen. Currently, the family farm's product line-up includes 9 items ranging from everything from milk by the half-gallon and gallon jug to cheese curds, ice cream, butter, eggnog, and more.
"It was the biggest step and the biggest reward," says Hansen. "Because of this, we can actually see what kind of customer support we have and what products they're enjoying. That's pretty cool!"
However, Hansen admits making major changes to a dairy business like his family did are not easy feats. Knowing how to best market products and figuring out production methods proved to be minor challenges.
Unlike some commercial milk processing facilities, Hansen Dairy choose not homogenize their milk, a process that breaks down fat molecules in solution. Making ice cream with non-homogenized milk is more difficult. However, through trial and error, as well as consulting with area dairy inspectors and other experts, the family prevailed both in their marketing and processing methods. Today they successfully produce over 28 unique flavors of ice cream.
Overall, Hansen says the dairy's products have been well-received with a majority of the customer feedback coming to them through social media channels, as well as customer referrals.
"Word-of-mouth has been quite strong marketing for us," says Hansen. "People tell other people our products are really good and that they taste better and last longer on the shelves."
In addition to direct marketing their products, Hansen Dairy has also taken advantage of the rise in agritourism. The farm is listed as a Silos & Smokestacks National Heritage Site with the National Park Service, one of only 49 sites in the United States. The family frequently gives tours on the farm sharing with visitors how milk gets from the cow to table. In addition, visitors have an opportunity to spend time with the three kangaroos which reside at the farm and serve as the dairy's mascots.
When Hansen looks back on his experience since coming back to the farm, he says he cannot imagine things any other way. So what's his secret to success? Hansen says there isn't any clear cut answer.
"You just can't be afraid to take a risk, because without the risk-taking none of this would have panned out," says Hansen. "Do your research before you do things and don't be afraid to work hard."
Learn more about Hansen's Dairy on theirwebsiteor by following them onFacebookandTwitter(@hansen_dairy).