Ralma Holsteins outstanding in dairy industry
by Jennie Zeitler, Staff Writer
Ralma Holsteins from Schmitt Dairy are known around the world. The farm, located 5.2 miles from Rice and 4.2 miles from Royalton, has welcomed visitors from six continents – people wanting to learn more about the dairy operation and foreign students who stayed with the family for a month or more at a time.
But to Al and Mark Schmitt, it is simply the farm where they grew up milking 50 cows.
Begun by Al and Mark’s grandparents, Nick G. and Anna Schmitt in 1935, the farm was next operated by their son, Ralph, and his wife, Mary Lou.
The dairy’s foundation cow was purchased as a heifer in the 1970s by Mark and Ralph for $890. When choosing a name for their registered Holsteins, the Schmitt family formed “Ralma” as a combination of Ralph and Mary Lou, and also of Ralph, Al and Mark.
Mark married Natalie in 1987, a gal who had grown up on a beef farm in Illinois. She was a farm broadcaster with WYRQ.
“Since girls couldn’t farm, I farmed the airwaves to report on ag news, markets and weather,” she said.
Mark and Natalie’s four children grew up and into a comprehensive knowledge of all aspects of the dairy industry. Jonathan is a 2010 graduate of Royalton High School now majoring in applied plant sciences at the University of Minnesota (U of M) in the Twin Cities.
Michael graduated from Royalton in 2011 and is majoring in dairy production and applied economics at the U of M.
Katie, a 2012 Royalton graduate, is a Benton County dairy princess and one of 12 finalists for Princess Kay of the Milky Way. She is also a student at the U of M.
Austin is a Royalton High School senior and very active in FFA.
Until 2004, Al lived with his parents on the home farm, while Mark and Natalie lived in a house one mile to the north. When Ralph and Mary Lou retired and moved into Royalton, Mark and Natalie moved their family to the home farm, and Al moved to their former house.
That same year, Al married Brenda.
Al and Brenda and Mark and Natalie farm in partnership, milking about 100 cows and marketing not only the milk but the genetics of their cows as well through embryos, heifers, cows and bulls.
“It started out as a challenge to see how good a herd of cows we could develop,” Mark said. “Our vision was to have a herd where we could market the genetics and our goal was to have an outstanding herd bull.”
The Schmitts started using embryo transfer in the late 1970s. Now, they have many bulls —not just one. They have about 275 head of cattle from newborns to milking cows.
The first cow to carry the Ralma prefix was Dud, who lived to the ripe old age of 18. She sparked Al and Mark’s interest in registered cattle. She and Faith are the foundation cows of Ralma Holsteins. Every animal on the farm can be traced back to Faith.
“It’s always interesting to read Holstein International, an industy magazine published worldwide,” Mark said. “I always look for the extended pedigrees on animals in foreign countries to find the genetics that we started on our farm.”
In 2011, Ralma Christmas Fudge was selected as the International Holstein Cow of the Year.
Each of the Schmitt kids has been in the barn since they were three weeks old, Natalie said.
Mark and Natalie grew up with 4-H and encouraged their children in it as well.
“We learned a lot of patience and life skills,” Katie said.
Although all four kids joined FFA, it is Austin who has most taken advantage of the opportunities offered.
The Schmitts have received visitors from all over the world, those interested in learning more about the dairy operation.
“I learned to say hello in many languages,” Katie said, “to greet people from Italy, Germany, Spain, New Zealand, China, Ireland and Japan.”
Kids from France and Germany have spent weeks at the farm, becoming just like one of the family. One summer there were seven teenager between 14 and 19.
“We went through a lot of food,” Austin said.
Michael was recently named one of 12 semifinalists in the Holstein Association’s Distinguished Junior Member awards for members ages 17 to 21. Following interviews at the national convention this year, six finalists will be chosen.
“I put hundreds of hours into filling out the 28-page application booklet, basically my whole Christmas vacation,” Michael said. “The interviews will be in July.”
The junior Holstein project involves buying, breeding and showing cows.
At the same time, it was announced that Austin is one of eight finalists for the Young Distinguished Junior Member competition. That is the highest award for junior members ages 9 to 16.
Katie was a Benton County dairy princess in 2012 but didn’t feel she was ready to try to be Princess Kay of the Milky Way yet.
“The skills and abilities I need to do the job weren’t developed enough yet,” she said.
As a Benton County dairy princess again this year, Katie was successful in her bid to be a Princess Kay finalist at this year’s May event —where the state’s dairy princesses have the opportunity to compete to be one of 12 Princess Kay finalists.
“I was breathless when they announced my name,” she said.
There will be parades and events in Benton County all summer, and a training weekend in late July for the Princess Kay finalists. The coronation will be Aug. 21, the night before the Minnesota State Fair kicks off.
Farming is a life none of the Schmitts would trade.
“I never imagined raising my family anywhere else than a farm,” said Natalie. “We work hard but we play hard too.”
“It’s a lot of fun and it’s a lot of work,” Katie said. “You can find a nice balance between fun and responsibility. It’s helped me set priorities at college.”
“Now that I’m going to college and am away on my internship this summer, I realize the value of my family’s farm,” said Michael. “I miss it. Growing up working on the farm brought us closer together. I enjoy it even more now, looking back on it.”
“I like the country life, not having one particular job all day long,” said Mark. “It is very diversified, and you can say you’re the boss …”
“… but the cows are the boss,” Austin added. “The cows all have their own personalities and I’ve learned a lot of responsibility with them.”
The Schmitts agree that “the only thing we control in life is how we react to things with the faith we have.”
A stitched wedding gift hanging on the office wall sums up “what we do around here,” said Natalie. “Who plants a seed beneath the sod and waits to see believes in God.”
“You can’t be a farmer without faith,” Austin said.
The farm’s slogan is “Ralma — built on Faith.”
“We take care of one another and help others,” Mark said. “If someone needs us, we’re there.”