Cow to Cone

The Herald | Cow to Cone

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Photos by Traci Westcott

Story by Jonathan Saxon

The work starts early around the Francis Lindauer & Sons Dairy Farm, long before the first traces of the sun even hit the horizon. It starts with making feed for the cows around midnight, followed by the first milking of the day at around one o’clock in the morning.

Before the day is over, tons of milk will be harvested from the farm’s 400 milking cows, and sent to Prairie Farms in Holland where it’s processed and made safe for commercial sales.

“Raw milk comes in here every day, and it gets bottled into finished product,” said Michael Bouchard, a sales manager with Prairie Farms in Holland. “Within 48 hours of receiving the raw milk, most of that product is in local stores. The quicker we get it from the farm through the processing system and out to the customers guarantees that we have the freshest and best quality product that we can produce. We cover the whole county, all of southern Indiana, all of western Kentucky from Louisville and a little bit of northern Tennessee.”

A dairy cow eats feed while waiting for her turn to be milked at Francis Lindauer & Sons Dairy Farms, a Prairie Farms supplier, in Ferdinand on July 25. The feed is made up of ground corn, corn silage and alfalfa haulage mixed together.

That’s the short version of the journey a lot of milk in Dubois County makes as it goes from farm to table. In addition to grocery stores, Prairie Farms also supplies dairy mixes to a variety of local restaurants, and one of those establishments happens to be nestled away in the town of Holland. The place is called Windmill Chill, and for a lot of folks around the county, it serves as their go-to spot for cold refreshments and a bite to eat during the sweltering days that accompany summer.

The shop is owned and operated by Huntingburg locals Jason and Rhonda Diekhoff, whose idea for opening the shop was born from thoughts about what the couple would do in their later years after they both stopped working full time.

“We always enjoyed going out and stopping at little ice cream shops when we were dating,” Jason said. “So when we were trying to figure out what we were going to do later in life, this idea kind of came up, and that’s how we started the business.”

Jason currently works for OFS Brands as a design solutions quote manager, and Rhonda is the tennis coach at Southridge High School. She worked for the NCR Corporation in a range of information systems roles from 1993 to 2013. Both of them had worked in capacities that had customer service elements, but they didn’t have any experience when it came to working in the food service industry. They didn’t let that minor detail intimidate them, though, and instead they made up their minds to start small and learn the ropes as they went along after they opened the seasonal shop for business in 2009.

“It started off with just ice cream,” Rhonda said. Their menu has since grown to include things like banana splits, waffle bowls, doughnut sundaes and fried foods. But one thing that hasn’t changed is the Diekhoffs’ commitment to locally sourcing the mixtures they use for their dairy products. It’s not only logistically convenient to have local suppliers, but it’s also a point of pride to keep the economic activity within Dubois County instead of spending that money out of the ecosystem to outside suppliers.

JoJo Halder, 2, of Dale, eats a mini ice cream cone at Windmill Chill in Holland on July 25.

“It’s important for us to purchase local because it’s community,” Jason said. “Holland has a real connection with what used to be the Holland Dairy before it was purchased by Prairie Farms. A lot of people love it when you still refer to it as the Holland Dairy.”

But who sets up the supplier? The answer to that rests back at the beginning of the supply chain, which takes us back to the Francis Lindauer & Sons Dairy Farm and one of its operators, Craig Lindauer.

Craig was born and raised in Ferdinand, and started working around his family’s dairy farm in middle school. He graduated from Purdue University in 2002 with a degree in agricultural economics, then took a job with Farbest Farms as a flock supervisor for 13 years before returning to the family dairy farm as it was going through a period of growth and transition.

“We went from milking 150 cows to 400 cows. That’s when I came back, because there was more opportunity for me at the farm,” Craig said. “That was my chance to be involved more with the farm.”

The farm has been around since 1933, and while they have always milked cows, the Lindauer family has also tried their hand at raising a host of animals, such as goats, chickens and pigs.

Today, Craig and his family exclusively raise Holstein cattle, and the dairy operation produces somewhere in the neighborhood of 120,000 gallons of milk a month. Prairie Farms receives new batches of milk from the Lindauers on a daily basis.

“As the milk tank trucks come in, the milk is tested, and if it doesn’t live up to the quality that Prairie Farms producers strive for, the load is rejected,” Michael said. “Prairie Farms has a quality standard for all producers, and they know what they’re shooting for in producing top quality milk. [Francis Lindauer & Sons Dairy Farm] is a really good one, they work really hard. We’re fortunate to have them.”

Windmill Chill owner Jason Diekhoff pours Prairie Farms ice cream mix into the soft serve machine while working at the shop in Holland on Aug. 8.

As one can imagine, it takes quite a bit of work to run such a farm that harvests that much milk.

Craig estimates that up to a dozen people work around the farm, between his relatives and the hired hands. Ten- to 12-hour work days are the norm for most shifts, and there’s never a shortage of tasks to perform around the farm.

The cows need to be fed three times a day, so feed is always either being prepared, stored or delivered to the various milk houses that dot the 90-acre farm. There’s also a rotating herd of 24 cows that are brought in and milked like clockwork before being moved back to their pens. In addition to the milking cows, there’s another 400 or so that aren’t milking yet that have to be cared for, and the farm also sees the birthing of calves on a fairly regular basis. There’s also tractor and other field work needed to grow the crops the farm uses to feed the cows.

David Linares, center, and his uncle, Felipe Linares, milk cows at Francis Lindauer and Sons Dairy Farm in Ferdinand on July 25.

“In the spring and summer, we’re making hay, planting corn, and hauling manure,” Craig said. “The day shift will show up at 7:30 and stay all day until 6:30 in the evening. We have a night shift ... we get done milking around seven in the morning. Really there’s someone on the farm at all times.”

It’s a lot of activity that goes into making sure the cows are as healthy and comfortable as possible so that their milk counts can be maximized, but it’s something that Craig and his family wear as a badge of honor. It always gives him a bit of a tickle to go into the stores around Dubois County and find the cartons of milk with serial numbers that show it came from his family’s farm.

“Most of the time it goes from farm to consumer within 48 hours,” he said. “I talk to people that are buying the milk about where it’s coming from. Windmill Chill, if we go eat there, we might thank them for using our milk. It’s nice to know you’re such a large supply of the milk in the area. It definitely gives you pride in being part of that.”

It’s a feeling of gratitude shared by the Diekhoffs as they’ve been able to operate Windmill Chill for 10 years because of the quality of their ice cream, among other things.

Leroy and Vanessa Schaefer of Dale visit Windmill Chill for their weekly ice cream date on Aug. 8. The couple has made the trip nearly every Sunday for 10 years — ever since their daughter, Victoria, started working at the shop. “We’re coming if it’s raining, snowing; we will wear our jackets if we need to,” Vanessa said.

Longtime customer Vanessa Schaefer and her husband, Leroy, have been going to the ice cream shop since it opened its doors, and recruited their daughter, Victoria, to work there. Since those early days, Vanessa says it’s been a pleasure to watch the place grow from just an ice cream shop to a community gathering place where you can socialize with your neighbors over one of the many snowstorms the shop has become known for.

“It’s been good to see a business in a small town like Holland that has grown by leaps and bounds,” she said. “They have really tried to keep that small-town atmosphere and give the people a variety of choices for food and ice cream. We’ve gotten to know everybody who comes there on the weekends. We catch up with Rhonda and Jason on what their girls are doing. It’s like a little social group as well.”

Jason and Rhonda love the fact that they have been able to combine their talents and skills to build a business that has become such a strong staple in their community. They see themselves operating the shop for many summers to come.

A view of Windmill Chill from Holland Park on August 8.