Mark Fellwock was lying in the hospital burn unit last year after a controlled fire on his property unexpectedly erupted into a small explosion that knocked him unconscious. While the skin grafts he was to receive required that he remain under hospital observation for days, his wife, Johna, their kids, friends, and his two employees sprang into action back at the farm because, of course, dairy cows can’t wait.
Enduring hardships while maintaining a dairy is nothing new for Mark, a consummate family man who rushed home from school as a youngster to help his dad on the farm. In 2004, his father passed away in hospice at the farmhouse where five generations of family memories have been made. Eight years later, Mark sadly lost his 4-year-old daughter to a tragic brain tumor that shook the family.
For all the stresses the farm’s 300 cows can bring, they also provide Mark therapeutic relief. “Every day is challenging in itself,” he confessed. “But there’s nothing more rewarding than stepping out into the barn and seeing the cows … and knowing we’re taking good care of them. It’s what I enjoy.”
Mark derives additional joy from the fact that the farm business is a family affair that’s taken hold with the youngest generation, from 19-year-old daughter Bailey, who is now investing in the dairy, on down to 3-year-old son Hudson.
It was for the benefit of the cows and the family that the Fellwocks invested in building a new milking parlor in 2018, despite the dairy industry experiencing difficult economic times. The expansion is one in a long history of investments that Mark’s lineage has made to the 320-acre dairy since his great-great-grandfather first purchased the property from the railroad. Over the decades, it’s grown from occupying only a few cows to becoming a full-fledged dairy. And the primary parlor that once maxed out at simultaneously milking six cows expanded to 12 and, more recently, 24 cows.
Mark and Johna have also invested in cow comfort, including enhanced feeding floors, where their farm-grown forage and locally purchased grain is placed, and new fans and ventilation practices meant to overcome Missouri’s sometimes ruthless humidity or extreme cold. Sustainability, too, is a growing area of focus for Fellwock Dairy. When the family built the new parlor, they also put in a more environmentally friendly wastewater system and manure handling that separates cow refuse into solid and liquid states so it can be more easily applied.
While the amenities and processes have changed, the fundamental value of the product offered — milk — remains a wholesome constant. “It’s natural. It’s one ingredient,” Mark said. “To me, it’s just what we were supposed to consume and enjoy.”