September 5, 2017 at 3:32 p.m.

Exciting times for Bomaz farms

Next generation in Zwald family returns to dairy
Since returning to their family’s dairy, Bomaz Farms, siblings Annette (top) and Tom (bottom) have taken over large responsibilities on the farm - Annette as herd manager and Tom as maintenance and crop manager. Annette’s husband, Steve (not pictured), is the farms business manager.
Since returning to their family’s dairy, Bomaz Farms, siblings Annette (top) and Tom (bottom) have taken over large responsibilities on the farm - Annette as herd manager and Tom as maintenance and crop manager. Annette’s husband, Steve (not pictured), is the farms business manager.

By Krista M. Sheehan- | Comments: 0 | Leave a comment

HAMMOND, Wis. - When the Zwald family talks about their children returning to the farm, their response is simple.
"It's exciting," Kay Zwald said.
Kay and her husband, Bob, have welcomed the next generation back to their 570-cow dairy, Bomaz Farms, in St. Croix County near Hammond, Wis. Their daughter and son-in-law, Annette and Steve Schalla, returned January 2012 while their son, Tom, came back in December 2012.
"People say to surround yourself with smart people so we brought the kids home," Kay said with a laugh.
All three received degrees from the University of Wisconsin-Madison - Steve in ag business, Annette in dairy science with a Master's in dairy nutrition and Tom in agronomy.
"The writing was on the wall or him (to farm) from age 10," Annette said about Tom.
Tom's fiancé, Ashley Nimtz, also received a dairy science degree from UW-Madison.
Before allowing them to farm on the family's dairy full-time, Bob and Kay required their children to receive a college degree.
"Having them work off the farm was helpful, too," Bob said. "And it was their decision to return."
Working off the farm helped Annette find her way back to Hammond. She had worked as a nutrition consultant and had gone back to school to receive her Master's degree.
"I was still missing something. I really missed working with the cattle myself," she said.
Steve also worked off the farm in a desk job, which wasn't his ideal situation.
"I had a great experience, but at the end of the day, I knew I didn't want to be in that role inside at a desk for the next 40 years," he said.
Owning a business had always been a dream of Steve's so farming was a good fit.
Like Steve, Tom liked being outside.
"I wasn't destined to sit behind a computer all my life," Tom said. "I actually like the long hours of farming."
He chose agronomy because he likes crops and it would work well for where he could fit in on the farm.
When Steve and Annette made the decision to join the farm, Bob and Kay were farming with Bob's brother, who wanted to exit the industry at that same time.
"That really opened the door while creating its own challenges," Kay said.
Coincidentally, their herdsman of several years also decided to take a different route in life and left the farm.
"We hit the floor running," Annette said. "It wasn't much of a transition."
Annette was immediately given the responsibility of herd manager while Steve came in as business manager to take care of the financial analysis and marketing, while filling in with chores wherever he could.
"The learning curve was very steep for everyone," Bob said.
It helped to have another person on hand when Tom joined the farm at the end of 2012 as the maintenance and crop manager.
Transitioning out one family member and bringing in new ones wasn't easy, especially when the Zwald's legal situation wasn't what they thought. They had formed a buy/sell agreement several years before, but had not continued to review it over the years.
"It's a big challenge," Tom said.
Kay added, "Now we're careful about how we structure the farm in the future. Hopefully we can learn from our mistakes."
Along with an abrupt transition, the Zwalds also experienced other challenges with new family members on the farm.
"Everyone has their own mindset and goals, which don't always line up. That causes friction," Tom said.
To overcome this obstacle, the Zwalds have an informal meeting every other week to talk about what they've been doing on the farm.
"When your farm gets bigger, everyone is doing their own thing and sometimes we don't talk to each other about what is happening," Bob said.
Although Kay said the meetings take time and energy, it helps them communicate better and makes the farm run smoothly.
Bob has also changed his role on the farm from being the main decision maker to an overseer and advisor.
"It's a constant learning thing to be a leader rather than a boss," he said.
Sometimes a generational gap also creates challenges, Annette said.
"I'm not computer savvy," Bob said. "I leave that stuff to them (the younger generation)."
Annette, Steve and Tom also sometimes bring forth ideas for the farm, which have already been tried and failed. But the Zwalds are constantly trying new things.
"We are lifelong learners and always striving to meet new goals," said Kay, the calf manager on the farm.
But the next generation has been rejuvenating for the farm, creating nd generating even more ideas for their next change on their dairy.
"It's nice working with people with different mindsets. It brings different ideas to the table so we can come up with a better product," Tom said.
Having five people in the family on the farm also allows everyone to have time off.
"Steve's family lives far away and Ashley's does, too. We know how important family is to us, so we want them to be able to take time off to see them," Annette said.
Bob and Kay were recently able to take two weeks off to go to Brazil for vacation, something they hadn't been able to do very often before the next generation came into the picture.
It will also give them more time to be involved in their off-the-farm activities such as Kay's involvement on the board of the Professional Dairy Producers of Wisconsin and the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board. Bob will have more time to dedicate to coaching the county 4-H dairy judging team. And once the routine is more settled for Annette, Steve, Tom and Ashley, they said they will get involved with activities as time allows.
The Zwalds' philosophy of the farm is to be good, honest dairy farmers who treat their cows right and are good stewards of the land. Their herd of registered cows - Bob's favorite aspect of the farm - is milked in a double-10 parallel parlor and housed in sand bedded freestall barns. In 2008, the Zwalds installed a sand lane, which has helped them reuse their sand nine months of the year.
"Adding sand is the best thing we did," Bob said. "The cows are more comfortable, their production performance went up about 3,000 pounds, somatic cell count went down by 100,000 and our cull rate was cut in half."
Future plans for Bomaz Farms include a summer expansion onto two of the freestall barns to accommodate 100 more cows.
"That will maximize our labor force and parlor capacity," Bob said.
After that, it will be to focus on running the farm as efficiently as possible until they figure out their next upgrade or expansion.
Now with the next generation, Bomaz Farms' future looks bright.
"I'm excited for the future," Bob said. "You work your whole life building it up ... it's great to have our children come in to take over."

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