From grandfather to son to grandson, Sandhill Dairy Inc. of Perham has been in the Dombeck family for three generations as of 2021.

Bob Dombeck, 40, the current general manager of the dairy farm, works alongside his brother, Steve, and brother-in-law, Jeremy Lachowitzer, to produce dairy products and crops.

Bob grew up at Sandhill Dairy, located on County Highway 60 just a few miles north of town, and has been working there since he was young. He now has three young daughters, who are the fourth generation of Dombecks to grow up on the farm.

"It's pretty rewarding that we can keep (Sandhill Dairy) going and hopefully pass it on to the future generations," Bob said.

He's seen quite a few changes over the years: The family used to milk cows in an old stanchion barn with a pipeline, for example; now, they milk in a parlor. Soon, they hope to purchase robots for milking the cows so they won't have to search for labor.

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The cows at Sandhill Dairy wear blue tags on their ears that track their activity. (Elizabeth Vierkant/Focus)
The cows at Sandhill Dairy wear blue tags on their ears that track their activity. (Elizabeth Vierkant/Focus)

Bob's general job is to oversee the cows and farm the crops alongside Steve and Jeremy. Steve's main duties are with crop work, and Jeremy's are with feeding and taking care of the cows. Sandhill has about 350 milking cows on its property.

When the cows aren't being milked, they're kept in a building with large fans to keep them from getting too hot. Machines also spray cool water on the cows on particularly sweltering days.

Blue tags are placed on the ears of each cow. These tags, Bob said, function like Fitbits, tracking the cows' activities. This is particularly helpful with breeding, as the farmers are able to tell when a cow is in heat. It is also helpful with calving, which typically happens between 4 a.m. and 8 a.m.; the tags alert workers when a cow is calving.

On top of breeding and milking cows for dairy products, Sandhill Dairy has 2,000 acres of cropland. The operation grows corn, alfalfa, soy beans, wheat and kidney beans.

Along with their cows, Sandhill Dairy also has 2000 acres of crops they farm. (Elizabeth Vierkant/Focus)
Along with their cows, Sandhill Dairy also has 2000 acres of crops they farm. (Elizabeth Vierkant/Focus)

The farm's dairy products go to a few different places, mainly Bongards Creameries and the Lakes Area Coop. Bob said his location in Perham is nice because it doesn't cost a lot to ship the farm's dairy products.

"Everybody uses dairy products, whether it be cheese or ice cream or to drink," he said.

Despite this, however, Sandhill Dairy and most other dairy farms in the Perham area struggled during the COVID-19 pandemic.

"Prices dropped substantially for a while," Bob said. Things are starting to recover now, as everything is starting to open up in 2021, he added: "Prices have bounced back up. If everything keeps opening back up, everything should be okay."

While quite a bit has changed since Bob's grandfather purchased the dairy farm -- and even since Bob's father took over it in the 1970s -- Sandhill Dairy remains a big part of the Perham community, and the Dombeck family.