With a few smooth movements, Dave Pribek backed the long, silver trailer of his milk truck to within a few feet of the milk house Wednesday afternoon on a Brussels-area farm.
His only audience, a lone cow watching from behind a metal gate.
That scene plays out — with some variation — an average of 20 times a day for the Kewaunee County-based milk truck driver and business owner.
Around the state and the nation, milk haulers like Dale and Dave Pribek — owners of Pribek Trucking in West Kewaunee — serve as the link between farm and processing plant, and ultimately consumers. It’s a largely unsung job, but one that plays an enormous role in one of Wisconsin’s most-important industries.
“It’s more of a lifestyle; you can’t just call it a job,” Dale Pribek said. “You miss out on a lot of things … On Christmas Day, there’s still milk to haul. (Click here to see video clip)
“I think people really appreciate it when that truck pulls into the yard and it’s the same guy getting out every time. They know that guy is dedicated and hard working, just like they are.”
The job starts in the early morning before the sun is up, and in many ways mimics the lifestyle of the farmers they work with.
Pribek Trucking traces its roots to the late 1950s when their father, Don, started working for Krohn Dairy and subsequently picked up a milk route in the mid-1960s. It’s a route he kept until 1997.
Dale and Dave Pribek worked in the dairy plant after high school and launched Pribek Trucking in 1997 with a single truck. They’ve grown the fleet to nine trucks, eight full-time drivers and four part-time drivers. Dale Pribek’s wife, Debbie, is also involved in the business, handling the company’s books.
“It’s something we grew up with,” Dale Pribek said. “Our dad did it his whole life, and if you wanted to spend time with dad, you went on the milk route with him because he never took a day off.”
Most of the milk hauled by the company goes to Agropur plants in Luxemburg and Little Chute. They also haul milk for Land O’ Lakes.
Dairy production is a roughly $26 billion industry in the state, part of a larger agricultural sector that pushes $60 billion annually.
Like farmers, Pribek Trucking has seen the costs of doing business increase in recent years with prices rising for things like fuel, repairs and tires. Municipal budget cuts have also left some snow-covered roads unplowed in the wee hours, when haulers are starting their rounds.
Pribek Trucking picks up milk in Kewaunee, Door, Manitowoc and Calumet counties on seven truck routes. The farms they service range in size from 15 to 2,500 head.
“Every farm you go onto every day, you run into something new all the time,” Pribek said this week while driving on rural roads in southern Door County. “When you leave in the morning, you never know what’s going to happen through the course of the day. That’s what keeps it interesting.”
On some farms, drivers connect a hose from the truck to a bulk tank on the farm, pumping the milk into the trailer. They also collect a sample of milk in a small container that is used to determine what the farmer is paid for their product. It’s based on a number of factors ranging from butterfat content to somatic cell count.
At other operations, a trailer is left on site and filled directly, awaiting only a tractor-trailer unit to back in, pick it up, and deliver the trailer and milk to a plant.
While the job is about getting milk to the plant, it’s also about people.
“When you deal with a farmer for a long time, you get to know each other real well and you talk about everything, it’s not just business,” Dave Pribek said. “It’s almost like family over the years.”
That’s a sentiment shared by his older brother.
“These farmers get to be good friends of yours,” Dale Pribek said. “You get invited to all their kids’ weddings, to graduation parties. There are years where you will get invited to six weddings, and they’re all farmers’ kids.”
On the farm — and even out in the community — Dale and Dave Pribek sometimes go by another name.
“The milk man,” Dave Pribek said. “If somebody knows me, ‘There’s the milk man.’ They don’t call you by your first name.
“I don’t mind it at all.”
Source: Green Bay Press Gazette