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Kilgus Dairy: Cream Rises to the Top

Welcome to our world customers know that the cream naturally rises to the top At Kilgus Dairy.

From April through November, Jenna and Matt Kilgus have learned to expect company. If people didn’t arrive at their Fairbury, Illinois, farm, they wouldn’t be doing their job. 

The Kilguses are part of a three-generation, extended farm family. The farm, located about 100 miles from Chicago, began in the 1950s with Matt’s grandparents, Duane and Arlene. Today, Matt, 33, is in partnership with his uncle, Paul, who operates Kilgus Dairy, a 150-cow, seasonally grazed Jersey herd. Paul’s wife, Carmen, and their sons, Justin and Trent, also are part of the business.

Matt manages Kilgus Farmstead. He and Justin handle bottling and delivery of their nonhomogenized milk products, as well as attending to marketing and sales. “An outside distributor delivers 40% of our milk to Chicago, “ Jenna says.

Matt’s dad died in 1998, when Matt was in high school. Matt commuted to junior college and earned an ag production degree in 2002. He and Jenna married in 2003. Their family includes Kamber, 8; Collin, 4; and Kelsey, 2.

Eight years ago, Matt and Paul began discussing how to bring Justin and Trent into the business.

In 2009, they made a decision to transition from shipping their milk to a central processing center to bottling their own milk on the farm.

By June of 2009, Kilgus Farmstead became the only single-source, on-farm bottling facility in Illinois. “It adds value and serves a market with a growing interest in our products,” Matt says.

The products, sold in over 120 Illinois stores, restaurants, and coffee shops, are whole, 2%, skim, and chocolate milk, as well as heavy cream, half-and-half, and an ice cream mix.

If You Build It

Jenna and Carmen handle the farm books. Jenna schedules and manages farm tours. “Adding the bottling plant opened a new avenue to bring people here and to show them our dairy,” she says.

Tours include a visit to the milking parlor and a stop at the facilities for the heifers and steers and newborn calves. The 600 goats, managed by Trent and Justin, are next. The tour concludes at the Farmstead, where visitors can observe milk being bottled three times a week. A $2 admission fee covers an ice cream cone from their soft-serve machine.

The store is open six days a week. In addition to milk products, their refrigerated coolers are stocked with beef from their Jersey steers. They buy Berkshire pigs to raise, and sell pork cuts as well as frozen sausage, bratwurst, and sausage links.

Their meat is processed locally at Chenoa Meat Locker.

Their goat meat is marketed to fine restaurants in Chicago, including The Girl and the Goat in the West Loop and Frontera Grill owned by celebrity chef Rick Bayless.

They also sell cheese, eggs, yogurt, jams, jellies, meat seasoning, marinades, and other items from area farms.

Matt and Jenna are active in Illinois Farm Bureau. Last summer, they participated in an IFB urban outreach effort to start a conversation about farming with nonfarm women. (See photo at left.)

Recent Moves

This past year, the Kilguses built a new compost dairy barn. “We hope to increase cow comfort and production,” Matt says. “This year, we’re also forming a corporation with Trent and Justin.”

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