Growing with the next generation
Riemer family on expansion, improvement track
This 64-stall freestall barn featuring a calving pen, sick pen and holding area is one of the most recent additions to the Riemers’ farm near Brodhead, Wisconsin. New facilities have helped boost milk production with cows averaging 92 pounds of milk per cow per day. PHOTO BY STACEY SMART
BRODHEAD, Wis. – When Rob and Tammy Riemer began farming with their son, Jordan, and his wife, Rachel, in 2016, it was full steam ahead in growing and progressing the farm. To accommodate the return of the next generation and sustain two families, the Riemers increased herd size, acquired more land, added buildings, invested in technology, updated management practices and made improvements to propel the farm forward.
“We’ve been taking really big bites the last few years,” Rob said.
The Riemers’ most recent addition included a 64-stall freestall barn with calving pen, sick pen and holding area, a 2.2-million-gallon manure pit, stacking pad and feed pad. Cows moved into the new freestall barn in February.
“The new barn is really nice for fresh cows,” Rob said. “We lost a lot of cows from late summer ketosis the last two years, but the new calving pen has been excellent. We freshened a lot of heifers this year, and the barn is filling back up. We’re really happy with the new facility.”
Completed in July, the manure pit replaced a much smaller pit measuring 2,500 cubic feet. Because they did not have adequate manure storage, the Riemers hauled manure daily for more than a year.
“That was horrible,” Rob said. “But we had to do it no matter what the weather was like. Now, everything is 100 percent contained, and a lot of runoff is sent into the pit.”
The Riemers milk around 190 cows near Brodhead. When Jordan returned to the farm in 2013 after graduating from the University of Wisconsin-Platteville, they were milking 100 head. In 2015, the Riemers put up a new 120-stall freestall barn and prepared to double the size of the herd with cows Jordan bought before Christmas. He and Rachel joined forces with his parents Jan. 1, 2016.
“It’s not an official partnership,” Rob said. “Rather, we’re farming together separately. Everything is split down the middle. We each get our own milk check, but we pay bills together out of one account.”
Some loans are in both couples’ names, while others are separate. Because Rob and Tammy also have a daughter who does not work on the farm, they created a revocable trust with Jordan in 2017.
“This allows him to sign real estate and have some skin in the game,” Rob said.
Rob and Tammy own the real estate while cattle and equipment are owned 50/50 with Jordan and Rachel, who pay rent for their half of the facilities and land.
“We split the cost for anything new,” Rob said. “Tammy and I foot the bill on the first barn, but we weren’t going to do that for the second barn. We put up half the money, and Jordan and Rachel put up the other half.”
Jordan is the fourth generation at Jordan Prairie Holsteins, which became a century farm last year. He and Rachel have two daughters representing the fifth generation – Vanessa, 2, and Chloe, 1. Open-minded and willing to try new things, Rob was happy to bring his son on board as a partner.
“I’ve had hired men before but not a partner,” Rob said. “There’s a difference – partners push back. But I knew Jordan and I could work together because we hadn’t killed each other since he’d been back from college.”
Introducing new ideas that he sees fundamental to the farm’s future success, Jordan has switched nutritionists, bumped milking up to three times a day, added a heat detection system and more.
“A lot of things are different since Jordan came back, but that’s a good thing,” Rob said. “The new stuff is awesome. I was never resistant to change. If you sit still, you’re getting run over. The heat detection system is probably some of the best money I’ve ever spent. Heat detection is not stressful at all anymore, and we have better conception rates.”
The change in nutritionist coupled with new facilities has boosted the bulk tank. One year after building the first new barn, the Riemers gained 15 pounds of milk per cow. Milk production continues to climb after building their second new barn with cows in the high group occasionally averaging over 120 pounds and cows in the 2-year-old and late-lactation groups sometimes reaching near 90 pounds of milk.
“We have 2-year-olds over 30,000 pounds of milk, and we also have some 40,000-pound cows,” Jordan said. “The tank average is at 92 pounds per cow per day. We expect that to go up this winter as we near the one-year anniversary of the new barn. Butterfat hovers around 4% and protein at 3.2%.”
Milking is done in a step-up walkthrough parlor built in the mid-1990s. Starting out as a double-4, it was turned into a double-6 in the spring of 2019.
The Riemers started running more ground in recent years and are working toward better conservation practices that include no till and cover crops. Acreage has more than quadrupled growing from 120 acres in 2016 to over 500 acres today.
“We got more cows before we got more land,” Jordan said. “So we’re chasing ground wherever we can get it. Our farthest land is about 7 miles away.”
The Riemers are members of the Farmers of the Sugar River watershed which provides cost sharing on cover crops.
“We planted cover crops on almost everything this year, and it all looks fantastic,” Jordan said. “We plant triticale in the fall as a cover crop, and we’re double cropping all around our buildings.”
The Riemers always buy some hay off the field, and one year when they found themselves short on feed, they bought a bunch of sweet corn.
“It makes excellent feed,” Jordan said. “This year, we’re chopping 150 acres of sweet corn.”
The Riemers are working on a farm succession plan to transition ownership to Jordan and Rachel within the next three to five years. The family is receiving help from the UW-Extension Dairy Profitability Center in navigating the transition process. Much of the management portion has already changed hands from Rob to Jordan, with Jordan in charge of cattle and planting crops.
“That part went smooth for us,” Jordan said. “Money is the hard part. No one can give you very good answers for the money side.”
When Jordan’s Farm Service Agency loan is up in three years, turning the farm into an LLC is an option the Riemers might consider.
“That might make it easier for Jordan to buy in with a certain number of cows and equipment,” Rob said. “We have to meet with our tax people and run some different scenarios and find out what’s IRS compatible. We don’t want a big tax liability. We have a lot of different ideas floating around, and we want to make it good for both of us. Tammy and I have to get some return on our investment.”
Planning to pay down on debt over the next three years, the Riemers have also had discussions with their banker and have toyed with the idea of leasing equipment.
“We want to get the assets transferred least painfully,” Rob said. “We’re struggling to find the best way to accomplish this, and we know waiting for somebody to die is not the way to do it. We want to do this right.”