Cattlemen’s Beef Board (CBB) member Don Gurtner has been a dairyman almost from the first day he donned long pants. “My grandfather had some dairy cows. He had a stroke and couldn’t milk them anymore but he wanted to keep the herd,” he said. So Don’s mother and father took a vote to decide which family member would step in and help. Don won his first election at the tender young age of 14.
“I was a sophomore in high school when I moved in with my grandfather and started in the dairy business,” he said. “I graduated in 1957 and I’ve been here the whole time.”
That quick introduction to dairying happened in 1955 and Don is still milking cows. He isn’t going it alone, though. His wife, Rose, son, Dwight, and daughter-in-law, Carey, help tend the herd and the row crops. They watch over about 100 Holsteins and grow some corn, soybeans and alfalfa on about 600 acres in the extreme northeastern corner of Indiana. “I’m just a few minutes from Michigan and a few more minutes from Ohio,” he said.
Gurtner has two more sons. Darrell has a welding business that does most of its work for area dairy farms. Duane is a diesel mechanic. Between the two of them, they’ve given the senior Gurtner six grandchildren.
Farming for more than five decades has taught him a lot about good agricultural practices. The Gurtners were honored with the 1992 Indiana Dairy Farm Family of the Year and in 1996 he was named Indiana Master Farmer, attesting to his skills as a farmer, a leader in the ag community, a good steward of his resources, and a family man.
He was also named the Prairie Farmer Master Farmer in 1996 and was appointed by two different Secretaries of Agriculture to the National Dairy Board. One of his proudest moments though was handing the traditional bottle of milk to Buddy Rice after he won the 2004 Indianapolis 500.
Like most CBB members, he’s active in industry affairs. He is a member of the United Dairy Industry Association Board and the Dairy Farmers of America who nominated him to the CBB, serves as Chairman of the Board of the Milk Promotion Services of Indiana and as secretary/treasurer of Steuben County Rural Electric Co-op. Don was president of the Steuben Dairy Herd Improvement Association and secretary of the DeKalb and Steuben Artificial Breeding Association.
Making the most of his background, he was appointed to the checkoff’s Veal Committee. “Serving on the veal committee has been a whole new experience for me. Learning the different cuts of meat and where they sell has been interesting. Veal is a challenging market and we’re working hard to meet those challenges,” he said.
Chuck Jolley is a free lance writer, based in Kansas City, who covers a wide range of ag industry topics for Vance Publishing.