Rising from tragedy
Lundbergs return to dairy scene after battling stray voltage
Members of Bert-Mar Farms – (from left) Erica Lundberg’s fiancé, Grahm Giese, Loveiisa Mackey, Erica Lundberg holding Aksel Mackey, Allan Lundberg, in-house breeder Ryan Nordahl and James Nordahl – pose with Josey LLC Duc Saber-Red EX94, one of their elite cows, on their farm near Osseo, Wisconsin. The Lundbergs are rebuilding their herd after suffering from years of stray voltage. The Mackeys are Allan Lundberg’s grandkids. PHOTO BY ABBY WIEDMEYER
OSSEO, Wis. – Allan Lundberg and his daughter, Erica, have spent the last 11 years reintroducing elite genetics to their herd after the farm nearly fell apart because of stray voltage issues.
“I probably should have quit, but I knew I was not a bad farmer and that there was something else going on,” Allan said.
For more than a decade, Allan has worked to rebuild the Bert-Mar Farms herd where he and Erica milk 120 cows near Osseo.
While the resolution began in 2010, the tragedy persisted for 20 years before the problem was rendered and the family was able to focus on their passion for elite genetics.
“We lost it all with stray voltage,” Allan said. “We had nothing left, no pedigrees. That’s why we bought the animals we did to start over.”
Allan was in partnership with his dad for many years and finished buying the farm in 1993. They had success with a state record cow, class leaders, the top herd in the county and World Dairy Expo tours in the 1980s. They had contract cows and the first embryo transfer cows in western Wisconsin, flying veterinarians in to do the work. One of the cows made 59 calves, with 29 of them being heifer calves.
By the end of the stray voltage nightmare, there was not a single relative of that cow left.
Problems began in the late 1980s when the power company replaced the original overhead service with an underground line.
“At the time, I thought that was pretty neat because it got rid of all the poles,” Allan said.
The underground cable they used was an insulated wire wrapped with bare ground wire which drew in current. For almost 10 years after that cable was installed, the Lundbergs had health problems with their cows. First, production started to suffer. Then breeding was a challenge, and herd health went south. Toward the end, there was a 20% death loss, a 1 million somatic cell count, and they could not keep the barn full.
“Whatever they got, DA or anything, they could not recover from,” Allan said. “There were swollen hocks. It was awful, just awful.”
Trying to get answers seemed to be impossible. The blame was passed to Allan, who had to watch his life’s work disintegrate around him.
In 1998, they determined the root of the problem was electrical. The power company built a new overhead line, abandoning the underground cable, and installed an isolator with a ground rod.
With renewed hope, Allan bought a few good animals and was ready to enjoy farming again. Unfortunately, the isolator made things worse. That ground rod almost hit the abandoned cable, which tied them in tighter to the lines. The family continued to struggle until 2010.
The Lundbergs heard about an independent contractor from Fort Atkinson who specialized in stray voltage problems. He came to assess the farm.
“He worked in the barn all morning while we did chores,” Allan said. “After chores, he called a meeting and said, ‘You’re hotter than a pistol here, and I have no idea where it’s coming from.’”
Allan told the specialist of his concerns about the underground cable. After further investigation, the specialist turned all the power to the farm off, and there was still enough voltage to run a few lights. The abandoned cable was indeed the culprit.
“I told the power company they had to come dig it out, but they wouldn’t do it,” Allan said. “I asked them to at least mark the thing so I could dig it out myself, which they did.”
During the first night of digging, they brought 100 feet of abandoned cable up. The next morning, Allan was mixing feed while hired help milked the cows. They came to Allan and said something was going on in the barn and the cattle were acting different.
“The cows were standing still,” Allan said. “We had gotten so used to them dancing around and being nervous, but suddenly everything was still. From then on, we went straight up.”
Cows started looking better, herd health and breeding improved, and production went consistently up for 48 months in a row.
“It’s been fun again,” Allan said. “I’m proud of Erica.”
Erica had always been discouraged by her dad to take part in the farm because of everything that went on. Once the stray voltage problems were resolved, she left her job as a teacher to come back to the farm with a goal to invest in elite genetics.
Erica has since invested in Luck-E Advent Atlanta and Luck-E Advent Asia. Asia’s bull, Awesome, has been the No. 1 udder bull of the breed for the past few years. Last year, Asia was named Holstein International’s Red Impact Cow of the Year and People’s Choice Cow of the Year. Bert-Mar has gained over 120 calves from Atlanta and Asia alone.
Bert-Mar Farms has since become home to Kandie, who was senior champion at World Dairy Expo in 2014.
“Those are the big three of the Luck-E Herd,” Erica said. “It’s brought a lot of traffic here, and we have had Expo tours again.”
They have sold a few offspring while continuing to focus on rebuilding the herd. With the economics of dairying being poor, the Lundbergs plan to diversify by merchandising genetics.
The Lundbergs have been a resource to many people with electrical concerns. They are honest with their story and feel as though the struggles have made them stronger.
“You hear too many stories where it’s all wine and roses, but it’s not,” Allan said. “Everybody goes through something. It’s how you come out of it that matters.”