Willows Edge auctions its herd

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There was a bittersweet bite to the air Saturday as folks from near and far gathered at Henk and Bonnie Van Dyk’s Willows Edge dairy farm just south of New Richmond to place individual bids on more than one-hundred dairy cows marking the end of an era at the 960-acre farm split by the Willow River.

Starting Saturday morning at 10 a.m., online bidders from all around the country and Canada, joined a standing-room only crowd in the barn anxious to get the bidding started. An emotional Henk Van Dyk took the microphone.

“We’re very, very proud of these cows. They’ve been our (pause). There’s a bet going on, that I wouldn’t get emotional and another about how fat I’m going to get after all these cows are gone,” said Henk with a little tremble in his voice.

He went on to introduce the family members standing at his side and then handed the microphone to Bonnie.

“We don’t believe this is a cattle sale. When you’re buying today, you’re buying Mink, who’s out of Melody, who’s out of Malia, who’s out of Mission, who’s out of Maddie, who’s out of Millie. We’ve spent long hours arguing at the kitchen table. We make these cows individually. We’re proud of what we’ve done. They’ve made us a lot of money, I want to be frank about that. All these buildings were built by them and the machinery was paid for by them. Our vet always says, if he dies and comes back to be a cow, he wants to come to Willows Edge. So we’re passing the torch to you. You’ve got a little responsibility to take good care of them and we know you will,” said Bonnie.

“Chris and I work a ton of sales around the country and I’ll tell you what, when you get to a sale and every seat is taken and you’ve got standing-room only, it’s a credit to the people who put all the hard work in, the breeders and owners of these great cows. So congratulations to Henk and Bonnie,” said Roger Turner, pedigrees manager.

Moments later, auctioneer Chris Hill’s gavel hit the desk and the bidding commenced.

In all, 175 head sold with number 46, Willows-Edge Real Mink-Red, the top seller at $37,500. Mink was the unanimous All-American Winter Calf 2015 and Nominated All-American Winter Yearling and sold 10 days fresh. The average sale Saturday was $3,166.

“It was very hard. 40 years of breeding. I’m in that barn every day for a good 12 hours or more. You get very close to cattle, some closer than others, but they’re almost family,” said Henk.

Standing outside the barn, watching folks come and go from the auction, you rarely see an old farmer who doesn’t have a limp. It’s a hard life, dairy farming. You don’t survive without a passion for that way of life. As I walked down the driveway away from the farm, I could still hear the rhythmic chant of the auctioneer as it drifted between the buildings and faded out across the pasture.