CHATFIELD, Minn. – Wet weather is really putting a damper on all spring and early summer activities at Kappers’ Big Red Barn. With another inch or so of rain falling during a spring storm within the first few days of June, it is difficult to make anything happen at the farm.
“We’re still pretty wet, we were trying to get going with haying, but we are not having any luck yet, we haven’t cut anything,” said Bob Kapper in a recent phone interview. “I’m kind of hoping to get a bunch of oats seeded tomorrow. We’re trying to spread that out and seed every couple of weeks, but so far, we haven't really gotten much of anything in.”
The oats, when ready, will be green chopped and fed directly to the cattle. Each day, the Kappers will chop only what they need for that day, and by planting a little each week, they can spread out the harvest over several weeks.
“Normally, we would be green chopping oats easy by now, but the first stuff we got it is just not quite ready yet,” said Bob.
The goal is to seed a second crop of oats after the first crop is harvested. That will give them forage to harvest later in the summer and early fall, some of which can then be stored in silage bags for winter feed.
Thankfully, the Kappers still have plenty of feed available for their cattle as they wait for the oats to come around. When they can finally get into the fields, they’ll have their hay fields to green chop. Until then, the cattle still have plenty of pasture to graze.
With many of the fields inaccessible, the Kappers can focus some of their attention on managing their pastures, particularly the thistle problem they face.
“We're trying to finish up spraying thistles and if it goes another week, we'll just have to clip what's left. They are getting too big to spray,” he said.
Thistle weeds can be a huge problem in pastures. They come in a number of varieties – both annual and biannual – and can severely decrease pasture production. Plus, if they get to seed out, they spread fast.
“In the fall would be the time we'd spray the whole pasture, but then we've got to lock the cows out of there for a little while when we do that,” he said. “You don't get a good kill just spraying the whole pasture in the spring.”
Instead, they are taking 2-4 D out to the pastures and spot spraying each thistle plant individually. If the plants are too big that the herbicide won’t kill them effectively, the next best step is to cut them off.
It is one of those tasks that is not difficult, but it takes up a lot of time.
“Last summer, we didn't get enough of them sprayed in the summertime, so we've got a lot of them this year to do,” he said. “It's a huge problem for us every year.”
They’ve tried different things over the years to get rid of the thistles. One year, they had a helicopter come out and spray them, with mixed results.
“That was quite a few years ago, probably 15 years ago when we did that,” Bob said. “We’ve considered doing that again. If we could get them to spray the fall, I think we would definitely do that, but they only seem to be only around spraying in the spring.”
The trouble is, with summer now here, this is the busiest time for the Kappers retail part of their business. In addition to the weekly farmer’s markets in St. Paul and Rochester, every week they have Thursdays Downtown in Rochester.
“It's kind of a big street fair that we do fried cheese curds at,” he said. “One time, somebody told me it's over 20,000 people on a good day to go through there, so it's a pretty big deal.”
It happens every Thursday in June, July and August, weather permitting.
In addition to selling around 200 pounds of deep-fried cheese curds, the Kappers sell milk, ice cream and regular cheese curds.
“We used to do crème brûlée, but we didn't do that this year, we have had a hard time keeping enough cream on hand to make that stuff,” Bob said. “But people really like it and we may do it later on this summer, just have to see how the cream supply goes.”
It is all about customer satisfaction, which is what keeps the Kappers’ Big Red Barn going.
Kappers’ Big Red Barn street stand can be found every week at Thursdays Downtown in Rochester.