Keeping their father’s legacy alive
Manthe siblings take over farm after father’s death
Siblings Libby and Ian Manthe took over the family farm after the death of their father in March. The Manthes milk 450 cows and farm around 850 acres with the help of three full-time employees near Deforest, Wisconsin. PHOTO BY STACEY SMART
DEFOREST, Wis. – Libby and Ian Manthe thought they would be much older than 22 and 17 when they took over the family farm. But when their dad, Roger, died last March in a farming accident at the age of 50, the siblings suddenly found themselves in charge of the operation. While mourning the loss of their father, the responsibility of learning how to run a business fell into their laps.
With broken hearts, Libby and Ian forged ahead because the cows had to be milked, the crops had to be planted, and the bills had to be paid. The challenges were many, but dairy farming was the dream of these fourth-generation farmers who were motivated to make the most of a terrible situation.
“My dad always told us, ‘Someday this is going to be yours,’” Libby said. “However, neither of us thought we’d be this young with a farm on our shoulders, but here we are. Every day is a learning experience.”
The Manthes milk 450 cows and farm about 850 acres near Deforest. The dairy operates with a lean workforce consisting of Libby, Ian and three full-time employees.
“Help was hard to find,” Libby said. “We only had one full-time employee before. I went from doing pretty much all the milking with my dad to hardly ever milking. I spend a lot more time in the office now.”
Libby manages the cows, taking care of herd health, vaccinations, feeding and any other aspects related to the cow. She is also now responsible for the farm’s bookwork.
“The bookwork is something I had to learn real quick, and it was a large undertaking,” Libby said. “I had never seen a milk check or a bill before. My dad did it all, and when I had to take over, I didn’t even know how to read the milk check.”
From planting through harvesting, Ian is in charge of fieldwork.
“I learned everything from my dad,” Ian said. “It was always him and I working beside each other, but there was a lot I hadn’t learned yet. I had to figure out how to run the chopper and how to manage crops for a timely harvest. We do all our own maintenance so I also had to learn about ordering parts and how to fix things.”
From crops to cattle to maintenance, Ian had to grow up fast and take on responsibility beyond that of most kids his age.
“Ian continues to impress me by all he has learned,” Libby said. “From equipment maintenance to repairs, he does it all. When needed in the parlor to repair an airline or brisket bar cable or whatever it is that breaks, he is always there ready to fix. But the biggest spot where Ian has grown is in the field. He knows what crops we’re going to plant, in which field, which variety to put where, etc. He also hauls manure, with our semi or tractor tanker and helps move cattle around, cleans yards and feeds cows when I am just too busy.”
Ian’s accomplishments were formally recognized when he won the Most Valuable Employee Award from Alltech Wisconsin. He is the youngest person to receive this award, which was presented to him Dec. 2 at Lambeau Field in Green Bay.
“All in all, Ian does a lot for being so young and teaching himself the things he wasn’t able to learn from my dad,” Libby said. “He impresses me by the machinery he can operate, the many things he can fix and being the best partner a sister could ask for.”
Being full time on the farm after high school was always Ian’s plan. Going to college was not on the radar, and given current circumstances, Libby is grateful Ian is not pursuing a degree.
“I went to Farm and Industry Short Course in Madison and thought it was a great program for farmers,” Libby said. “I learned a lot and made many friends, and I thought it would be a good experience for Ian as well, but I don’t know if I could handle the farm by myself.”
Three weeks after their dad’s passing, the Manthes received notice they needed to upgrade their double-10 herringbone milking parlor to current regulations in order to continue selling Grade A. A redo from floor to ceiling was necessary. Managing expenses and dealing with unexpected costs like the parlor was new terrain for Libby, who learned the ropes day by day.
Libby and Ian created an LLC when they became the farm’s new owners and gave it the name Stoney Creek View Dairy, a title partially inspired by their father. Ian was in high school when his dad died and inheriting the farm as a minor posed legal problems for the siblings.
“Ian turning 18 in August was a big deal,” Libby said. “One of our cousins who manages condominiums and other rental property has been a big help to us through the transition.”
Uncles and cousins pitched in with fieldwork, and vendors offered advice to help Libby and Ian find their way as they stepped into bigger, more demanding roles.
“My dad was in the middle of transitioning us into different jobs, but there were still a lot of things he hadn’t told us about or explained to us,” Libby said. “When the sprinkler line broke recently, we didn’t know how to shut it off. We’re finding out little things along the way and learning this is how Dad did it. We’ve made a lot of mistakes, but that’s the only way you learn.”
Along with the challenges of the year came successes for Libby and Ian, who had a strong desire to keep the farm thriving, not merely surviving. Milk production reached an all-time high on the farm this summer. In addition, the Manthes are milking more cows than ever before, increasing by 40 head in the last 8 months.
“Right before he passed, my dad said he wanted to milk more cows,” Libby said. “That was his goal, and we wanted to make that happen. It felt really good to see that number.”
The Manthes also switched to a new feed program called OneFeed.
“Our new nutritionist recommended that program, and I really like it,” Libby said. “It tracks tonnage each day and is a more precise program than what we were using before.”
Buying more land and building a heifer facility are at the top of Libby’s and Ian’s list of hopes and dreams for the farm’s future.
“We have heifers on five different farms right now,” Libby said. “Having them all on one site would be nice. Calves are currently raised in huts outside so having a new calf barn would be awesome.”
Updating equipment once they get a better handle on things is also a wish of Ian’s.
“More cows and more land were two goals my dad wanted to achieve,” Libby said. “There was always something he was looking forward to or working toward. We always ask ourselves, ‘What would Dad do or say in this situation? What would Dad want?’”
His presence is missed, but from the daily journals he kept, to the purchase dates he wrote on equipment, little reminders of their dad are everywhere.
“We’re reminded every day that he’s here,” Libby said. “Dad would always say, ‘Stay calm – don’t worry about it. Everything is going to be fine.’ I tell myself that every day. You can’t give up.”
A sign in front of Stoney Creek View Dairy reads: Love you, Dad. Cherish the memories.
Although the farm is quieter this Christmas, Libby and Ian are holding their father close in their hearts and looking forward to what the future holds.
“I feel like we’ve been doing good,” Libby said. “This was the first year with two young farmers in charge and we got all the crops in, harvested everything on time, and managed to work at updates in the parlor. I think Dad would be proud. This is our dream, and we want to keep going with our dad’s legacy.”