The Rollinger family has been farming in Sunnyside, Wash., for more than a century, so they don’t run into many surprises anymore.
The work isn’t easy and new challenges arise all the time. But while Rollinger Family Farms has experienced its share of ups and downs over the past 101 years, the family has managed to carve out a comfortable living for itself.
“Farming is just in our blood,” said Markus Rollinger, who owns the business with his brother, Jason, and their father, Joe. “When we were kids, we always wanted to be out on the farm, driving tractors and hauling hay. My dad saw how much my brother and I loved this kind of work, so he decided to expand the business in 2005.”
That’s when the Rollingers transitioned from being a custom farming operation to a dairy farm for a second time. Rollinger’s grandfather, Clarence — whose parents, Nicholas and Celia, founded the farm in 1918 — milked cows for about 35 years.
But in the early 1990s, the family sold its dairy cows to focus on growing asparagus, corn and alfalfa, and raising replacement heifers. Joe Rollinger remodeled the Sunnyside dairy in 2005 and resumed milking cows that summer.
As Markus and Jason started getting more involved in the operation, the family’s herd grew to 900 cows. Now, they milk 1,900 Holsteins and Jerseys at two locations (the second dairy, purchased in 2014, is in nearby Grandview, Wash.)
The Rollingers still grow corn and alfalfa, but the dairy operation has become their primary source of income over the past 14 years.
“Everything we farm goes back to the cows,” Markus Rollinger said. “We put all of our efforts into growing the highest-quality feed so our cows can produce the best-quality milk — and more of it. When you take care of the cows, they take care of you.”
He explained how higher milk production capabilities can be bred into the animals, which results in greater outputs for their wholesale distributor, Darigold Inc. The family also receives regular advice from veterinarians and animal nutritionists.
“They are the experts, and they help us understand what is best for the cows,” Rollinger said. “But a lot of our success comes back to how we manage our crops. If you put everything you have into something, you’re going to see results.”
Rollinger, 31, said he enjoys working with the cows, but his real passion is farming and managing the finances. Joe Rollinger, 57, is still involved in all phases of the business, while Jason Rollinger, 27, spends most of his time working in the fields.
“I order the feed, get all the parts and work with the vendors,” Markus Rollinger said. “But my brother likes to avoid the stress, so you’ll usually find him driving around on some farm equipment. My dad does all of the same things we do, but he eventually wants to take a back seat.”
His wife, Kristin, also helps out from time to time, but lately she’s been busy with their 10-month-old daughter, Kody Jo.
When they aren’t tending to their crops and cows, the Rollingers are working to promote the positive side of the dairy industry — a side that often gets overlooked by the public. The family is active on social media and is getting more involved with the Save Family Farming movement. Negative news coverage about the dairy industry tends to overshadow what’s really going on, they say.
“There are a lot of positive stories out there, but people just don’t know until they hear about them,” Markus Rollinger said. “We want people to understand that we’re not putting others at risk. We’re not trying to hurt anyone. This is our livelihood and we are proud of what we do.”