“We were just surprised. The whole ‘Bachelor’ thing got put together real fast,” said Pete Knigge, co-owner of the Omro, Wisconsin, dairy. “They had been in South Carolina shooting a group date and the hurricane came in and they had to leave South Carolina. ‘The Bachelor’ is from Wisconsin so they said they should go back to Wisconsin and use a farm — and cheese — for a theme for a group date.”
That’s where Knigge Farms comes in.
Owned and operated by Pete, his wife Theo, and their son Charlie, Knigge Farms has always been a progressive dairy. In fact, the family farm was the first dairy in the United States to have robotic milkers.
“My son was coming into the operation and was done with school and college, and we were looking to expand the dairy operation. We had plans for a considerably larger operation with a milking parlor and free stalls and everything. We were not excited about the cost of it, but what really bothered us was we had no experience with hired labor at all,” Knigge said. “We had two good friends in the area who had expanded in the four or five years ahead of us, and both of them had gone bankrupt because they couldn’t get hired labor and we were a little apprehensive of that.”
It was on a trip to The Netherlands with the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture and the University of Wisconsin-Madison, that Knigge got a firsthand look at milking robots. A year-and-half later the family farm was the first in the U.S. to install them.
“The big change is that we could handle three times the number of cows with no hired labor,” Knigge said. “As hired labor becomes more expensive and more difficult to find, the robotic technology will fit into more dairy operations eventually in the U.S.”
In 2010 after 10 years of use, the Knigges traded in the first Lely robots for a newer model, and put in automatic cow brushes as well as a feed pusher that goes around the barn every couple hours and pushes the feed back up to the cows. Three years ago, they moved the calves out of the hutches into a group housing barn with an automatic calf feeder.
“So we say that the farm is where the cows milk themselves whenever they like and the calves feed themselves whenever they like,” Knigge said.
In addition to being progressive, the dairy also offers farm tours regularly — and is one of the reasons Nick Viall ended up in their barn.
Knigge Farms is located on several web sites for tourists looking for farm tours. Tours are year around. While the family is busier in the summer than winter, just last week they hosted a family from India who wanted to see a dairy farm.
“Our main purpose on doing farm tours is to let people see a modern, working, family dairy farm and find out where there food, cheese, and milk comes from,” Knigge said.
Knigge Farms was essentially ready when The Bachelor’s producer called. The TV crew had gone on the Internet looking for farm tours available in Wisconsin. After the first farm they called wasn’t able to accommodate them, Knigge Farms was the second one they called.
“They called on Wednesday afternoon, a producer came out Thursday morning, and by Friday morning they were shooting,” Knigge said.
At first, Knigge actually thought someone was pulling his leg and trying to get back at him. After seeing the TV producer’s business card, he knew it was for real.
So what will we get to see when the show airs Jan. 23? Here’s a little spoiler alert!
- The Knigges mix up some bottles of milk for Viall and the 12 women to feed 25 baby calves in the calf barn. Some of the ladies even get the calves to suck on their fingers.
- In the free-stall barn, the women put on boots and gloves and attempt to feed a little bit of baled hay to the cows, but as Knigge points out, there was a TMR in front of the cows so they were more curious about the people rather than the hay they were being offered.
- The TV producer also wanted the cast to get the opportunity to milk a cow. Knigge’s grandson, Jacob, brought his fair cow out that they had separated from the milker earlier in the morning so she would have some milk.“They wanted all the ladies and Nick to try to milk the cow. Well the cow didn’t think much of it from the start, but she did settle right down and everybody got the chance to sit down and try to milk the cow,” Knigge said. “Nick had more trouble getting milk out of the cow than any of the women did, but he finally did get a squirt or two of milk out of the cow.”
- After that, the group heads to the heifer freestall barn where they bring in six new scoop shovels and the Knigges pull in the skid steer — so each woman can scoop manure into the skid steer bucket. GoPro cameras were installed on the shovels and in the skid steer bucket to measure the progress. “They shoveled enough manure into the skid steer bucket that they covered up and lost the GoPro camera and they had to search for it after,” Knigge said.
- For the finale, Viall and the women take a hay wagon ride down to the Knigge’s second farm — a heifer pasture with a hill — for a cheese wheel race.
What you won’t see — some of our industry’s most famous logos.
According to Knigge, the producer told them right away in the morning that couldn’t wear Knigge Farms shirts or their seed corn hats. No logos anywhere. In fact, one crew member’s job was to go around the farm with different color duct tape and cover up every logo. Knigge said a neighbor drove up on his John Deere Gator to visit briefly that day and that got duct taped.
Knigge says while the farm was chosen as a scene for the group date, he hopes the audience will get a peek at modern dairy farming.
“The purpose of the show was to have the farm as a background for this group date and so they showed some of things on the farm but mainly we were a prop,” Knigge said. “We hope they get a little glimpse of what is actually going on around here.”
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