While many family farms are being taken over by commercial organizations, the Kilgus family, which runs a dairy, pork and goat farm has its eyes set on staying small enough that the family members can manage the tasks on their own.
“We’re not trying to manage all these employees,” Jenna Kilgus said. “We want to manage our everyday tasks. We just want to be a small, sustainable farm. And if we get any bigger than that we are going to lose that feeling of being a small family farm.”
The Kilgus farm was established in the 1950’s when Duane and Arlene Kilgus bought the Kilgus Farmstead land where the dairy now sits. Duane and Arlene began raising Holstein cows, initiating a legacy that would evolve into what is now a fourth generation family farm. Over the years the herd flourished and multiplied, just like their family.
Today the Kilgus farm is managed by four Kilgus families who raise and milk 140 Jersey cows.
Finding time off is not something the Kilgus family thinks about often, as the cows need to be milked two to three times a day, every day. The Kilgus men, who may stay up until 9 or 10:30 at night, also get up around 3 a.m. to begin milking the cows.
“You don’t get birthdays or Christmas off,” Jenna said.
“But I like being able to do everything as a family,” Jenna said. “Even if we’re in the barn milking on a Sunday night together, at least we’re all together and we’re all sharing that. And my husband and I are teaching our children by showing them.“
Jenna, who oversees vendor orders and books also takes visitors on tours throughout the summer months. The public is invited to tour the farmstead a few times every month, but Jenna said groups of nurses, nutritionists or schools also come to visit throughout the year.
During the tour, visitors get an inside view of how the animals are cared for, how they are milked, how the milk is bottled and what the cows eat. Visitors also get to get up close to pregnant cows, newborn calves, steers and the cows who are milked on a daily basis.
Jenna said the family decided to raise Jersey cows instead of Holstein cows because while they produce less milk, the fat content within the milk is higher. The Kilgus farm produces between 6000 and 6500 gallons of milk per week. The milk is distributed to grocery stores and restaurants in Chicago, Bloomington, Peoria, downstate Illinois and Champaign.
Kilgus Farms’ milk is also not homogenized, meaning the fat particles are not broken down to form one substance. This is why the Kilgus milk will separate over time.
Jenna said their product, which can be found at Mahomet IGA, Art Mart, Strawberry Fields, Common Grounds and in several restaurants in downtown Champaign, will have a 16 days shelf-life in the summer and possibly longer in the winter.
But because the cows feed on fresh grass in the summer months, the milk, cream and butter will take on more of a yellow color as opposed to a paler white in the winter.
The Kilgus family also manages 1500 acres of corn, soybeans, wheat and hay fields alongside raising pigs, cows and goats for meat. The farm also has a small shop of lotions and soaps from cow milk, meats, butter, packaged ice cream and soft serve ice cream.
After paying a small $4 fee for the hour-long tour, visitors also get a soft-serve ice cream cone.