October 11, 2021 at 6:00 p.m.
The couple is retiring from dairy farming with an upcoming sale of cattle, machinery and their farm where they milk 1,500 cows near Fennimore. “It’s been a lifetime of work,” Steve said.
Steve’s father bought the farm in 1956 when he got out of the service. At that time, the farm consisted of 120 acres and 23 cows. Steve grew up farming with his father, three brothers and one sister. His mother tended a big garden and kept the boys in line while helping with the work outside. Her favorite chores were raking hay and cultivating corn. Everyone in the family helped when Steve was young. They worked hard and played hard.
Steve and two of his brothers took over the farm in 1980 and purchased additional land at that time. They continued to purchase more land in 1994 and build up the land base. Today the farm consists of 990 owned acres and 1,371 rented acres.
The parlor and freestall barn were built to replace the two stanchion barns the family was milking in at the time. The parlor was built as a double-12, with room to expand. The first milking in the new parlor was in July of 1997.
Unfortunately, that same year, the Bollants lost their brother Charlie in a grain bin accident. Charlie died in November 1997, leaving a gap in the labor force and in the family’s hearts. The loss prompted them to start hiring employees.
The farm’s cattle numbers have grown internally. The Bollants uses activity monitor collars now, but before that Steve spent a lot of time watching for heats.
“I used to walk these barns over and over and it was just killing me,” he said. “Our A.I. technician talked us into the collars and what a difference it’s made. We rely on them one hundred percent for catching cows in heat.”
Calves are custom raised by an outfit in Darlington. They pick newborn calves up twice a week. Calves are then brought back to the farm around 6 months old, weighing approximately 450 pounds. They come back in groups of about 25.
“Then we breed them ourselves and put collars on them,” Steve said.
The farm was at a crossroads in 2016. They were outgrowing their facilities with an over-crowded barn, and Steve was spending too much time hauling manure because the pit was too small. Additionally, there were 800 heifers and dry cows coming in that they did not have housing for.
They decided to build a new barn and manure pit. When Steve tried to obtain permits, he was turned down and told to contact the Department of Natural Resources. He did so and had the DNR come out. It was evident right away the farm would have to be registered as a Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation. Steve was told he would either have to do this or reduce his current animal numbers by half, and the 800 heifers would still have nowhere to go.
“I called them up that night and told them, ‘I’ll do everything that you want me to if you let me build that barn.’ And they let me do it.” Steve said.
It was an emotional time for him, and the decision was not taken lightly.
“It was a lot of years building up to where I was at,” he said.
He did not want to halt the growth he had worked so hard to achieve.
As a result, the parlor was expanded to a double-24, and the new barn was built. A sand reclamation system was put in as well, which saves a lot of money.
“Before this we were bringing in seven or eight loads of sand a week at $300 a load at least,” Steve said. “Now we actually have more sand than we need.”
The weight of the farm’s workload has been made lighter by a team of loyal, hard-working employees, Steve’s wife, Delores, their daughter, Erin, and her husband Brent.
Delores worked off the farm for almost 30 years. When Steve’s other brother, Tommy, was paralyzed in a hunting accident in 2009, Steve spent two years working harder than ever. Finally, they decided Delores would quit her job in town and come to help on the farm. She has been working on the farm full-time for the past 10 years.
“I never would have made it this far without her here with me,” Steve said.
Delores has enjoyed the last 13 years working with Steve.
“As crazy as this is some days, this has been the most enjoyable job,” Delores said. “I would’ve never been able to spend time with him otherwise.” They both credit their children for their dedication as well.
Steve and Delores’ daughter and son-in-law, Erin and Brent, have been involved full-time for the last 15 years. Steve has let a lot of the herdsman responsibilities default to them as they’ve gained experience.
When asked how they feel about retiring, they both express some anxiety, but ultimately, they are ready. Steve feels it is time to let go.
“It’s time to let somebody else take it over,” he said. “I spent enough of my time here, I figure, getting it built up. I feel good about walking away. It’s time, and I’m ready.”
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