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

Separate but together

Mathisons bring in next generation through renting, not building
Sara and Kyle Mathison stand in their rented barn with their landlord, Allen Hustad.<br /><!-- 1upcrlf -->PHOTO BY KRISTA KUZMA
Sara and Kyle Mathison stand in their rented barn with their landlord, Allen Hustad.<br /><!-- 1upcrlf -->PHOTO BY KRISTA KUZMA

By By Krista Kuzma- | Comments: 0 | Leave a comment

CUMBERLAND, Wis. - It wasn't ever a question that Kyle Mathison would return to the farm.
"It's something I've always wanted to do," Kyle said.
The real question was, "How will we fit in another family on the dairy?"
Wayne and Heidi Mathison decided to add in their son and daughter-in-law, Kyle and Sara, as the fourth generation on the farm by renting a neighboring tiestall barn in addition to their own tiestall barn to milk a total of 100 cows. Together, the Mathisons dairy farm near Cumberland, Wis., in Barron County.
"We farm separately, but together," Kyle said.
With the help of his brother, Ron, who raises turkeys, Wayne takes care of the 54 cows at the farm they own while Kyle and Sara milk 40 cows on the rented farm. They each receive the milk check from their respective farm. Sara works off-the-farm in addition to being a part of daily chores; however, she will start working on the farm full-time next spring.
Although milking is done separately, Wayne, Kyle and Sara work together to manage the cows. The cows are freshened and then bred on the Mathison farm before being moved to the rented barn where they are milked until dryoff. Before calving, they are moved back to the Mathison farm where the cycle begins again.
Crops are also managed together. The Mathisons have 400 acres - enough land to provide feed for the herd; however, they no longer sell any cash crops like they did before adding cows.
Kyle buys feed from Wayne at 75 percent of market price.
"We do it this way so Kyle and Sara can get an idea for managing a farm with fluctuating price. But he doesn't get peak milk so it's not fair to charge him top price," Wayne said.
The Mathisons thought this way of farming was a good way for Sara and Kyle to learn the ropes of dairy farming while still having the support of family invested in their venture.
The couple met while attending Northeast Iowa Community College (NICC) in Calmar, Iowa.
After graduating from NICC in 2010, both Sara and Kyle returned to Wisconsin and were married in 2012.
Kyle had always known he would work on his family's farm.
"But there wasn't enough here for all of us," Kyle said.
The Mathisons weren't interested in building a new facility or remodeling the one they had.
"It didn't make sense to build. When I retire, Kyle and Sara would have to hire employees," Wayne said. "Neither one of us wants to deal with managing people."
Instead, they decided to go a different route. Neighbor and retired dairy farmer, Allen Hustad, had always wanted cows back on his farm. Wayne asked if his family could rent Hustad's tiestall barn.
"My heart knew when I quit that I wanted someone to farm here. When Wayne asked if they could rent my barn it was music to my ears," Hustad said.
Although the barn sat empty for nine years, almost all of the equipment was still in place and in good shape.
"We're really lucky the barn was ready to go," Wayne said.
The Mathisons started milking in Hustad's barn in May 2010 with 15 cows.
"We didn't buy cows; we grew from within," Kyle said. "It's been slow, but cost effective."
The majority of the herd is Holstein while the rest are Jerseys, which were introduced to the Mathisons by Sara.
So far, adding a family member to the farm this way has been a benefit to the Mathisons.
"It's the least expensive expansion for us to work Kyle and Sara in," Wayne said.
It has also helped boost the confidence of the next generation.
"It's been a good way for us to know we can handle the responsibility of farming on our own," Sara said.
Kyle said this way of working into the farm has given the family options.
"We're not stuck with a building. We have the cows already if we want to build a freestall barn. Or we could sell some cows to get back to one barn," Kyle said. "I like what the future could bring."
Another benefit is having support outside of the family.
"Allen (Hustad) wants us there in his barn," Kyle said. "He likes to come out during milking and reminisce about when he milked cows."
He also offers some advice, but doesn't mind if the Mathisons do things a different way.
"He's a lot of fun and easy to work with," Sara said. "That's not easy to say about all land lords."
As young producers making their way in the industry, it can be challenging, Sara said.
"It can be difficult to know when to spend and when to save. I have always trusted Kyle and his abilities, but it's harder to trust the market since it can be so volatile," she said.
"Patience has been a big part of the reason we've had success getting started. We both came out of school with big ideas, but taking things slowly has really been key for us financially," Kyle added.
The couple also said they sometimes wish there were more young people in their area getting into dairying.
"There aren't that many people our age in this area who are milking cows, and it's a different lifestyle. We are lucky to have a strong county Farm Bureau though, and that's been a great way for us to meet other young farmers," Kyle said.
The biggest challenge in the process has been slowly growing the herd. Currently, the barn has a few empty stalls.
"You always wish the barn was full, but it takes time to build up the herd," Kyle said.
And it has been an adjustment having more cows - which also means more youngstock - on the farm.
"It's hard to find time for everything in a day," Wayne said.
Although the days are long and the work is hard for the Mathisons, they enjoy the rewards of dairy farming.
"There are things I can appreciate. I like the changing of seasons. There is always something exciting going on," Kyle said.
"I like that I can work with Kyle and I'm excited to raise our family here," Sara said.
Eventually, the Mathisons plan for Kyle and Sara to buy into the land and equipment. But right now, they're enjoying separate time while farming together.
"It's fun to see the next generation interested," Wayne said. "I'm glad to have them back."
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