December 22, 2022 at 3:27 p.m.

Sticking with what works

Johnsons continue multi-generational farm
Tom Johnson (from left) stands with his family Brad, Heath and Ryan Johnson Dec. 7 at their farm near Osseo, Wisconsin. The Johnsons milk 100 cows in a herringbone parlor. PHOTO BY ABBY WIEDMEYER
Tom Johnson (from left) stands with his family Brad, Heath and Ryan Johnson Dec. 7 at their farm near Osseo, Wisconsin. The Johnsons milk 100 cows in a herringbone parlor. PHOTO BY ABBY WIEDMEYER

OSSEO, Wis. – The Johnson family has discovered what works well for them in dairy farming. Tom Johnson harvested his 50th crop of cow feed this year with the help of his two sons, Brad and Ryan, on their farm near Osseo.
“We kind of stick with what we’ve been doing,” Ryan said. “Actually, that’s kind of unique because everybody our size has either been getting bigger or going out of business.”
The Johnsons milk 100 cows in a double-5 herringbone parlor. The parlor was installed in 1969, and the stalls were updated in 2013.
Tom has shipped milk to Foremost Farms for his entire career. He has utilized the buildings to be as efficient as he can with what is there.
“We kind of do the best we can,” Tom said. “It was actually an old chicken barn. We’re trying to squeeze every penny out of it that we can.”
When Ryan joined the operation in 2013, the family planned to transition everything over to him and Brad. The brothers have since purchased the cows from Tom, but that is as far as the transition process has gone.
“This way the farm has no payments,” Tom said. “If they tried to buy me out, then there would be a big payment, and it probably wouldn’t work for any of us. We’ve made some money this way.”
The family manages the workload together. Brad takes care of the calves every morning. Ryan milks with the help of his oldest son who is almost 14. Tom helps on all fronts.
“We almost never lose a calf,” Tom said. “We always have a bunch of cattle around.”
One thing that has helped with cash flow over the years is raising steers alongside their heifers. They end up with about 50 steers and 50 heifers every year. They are fed a total mixed ration that includes haylage.
“We feed them kind of like a Holstein cow,” Tom said. “Everything from a 600-pound heifer to a 1,700-pound steer are all in the same group. And, it works. You can’t skimp too much.”
The Johnsons aim to have their steers finished to 1,700 pounds within two years. The heifers are kept in the pen until they start to bag up and can be moved to a calving area.
The additional cattle provide ample amounts of manure which saves the family on fertilizer costs. With relatively high crop input costs this year, the Johnsons said the manure helped them remain efficient with putting their crops in.
“We don’t buy much fertilizer,” Tom said. “We kind of know by now where we need the manure the most.”
All the feed for the cows, heifers and steers is grown on the farm. This year, 80 acres were chopped and put into a bunker silo and a pile. Additional chopped corn was put into a 20-by-60 upright silo. High-moisture shelled corn was ground and put in two silos. The haylage crop for the year was put into bunker silos. Any corn that does not fit in the silos is hauled to town.
“We hauled a lot for us this year,” Tom said. “Every cob I looked at has 20 rows around it, and I’ve hardly ever seen that.”
The family did deal with supply chain disruptions during the last year along with the rising cost of equipment. They usually purchase a new mixer every seven years.
“Everything is so crazy expensive,” Tom said. “I almost hate to buy anything now. We bought a new mixer last year, and we just got it yesterday.”
Ryan said that apart from their nutrition work, the family tries to handle everything else themselves. Between repairs, chores and fieldwork, it is truly a family effort that has paid off in the long run.
Tom said the reliance on their family team has made a difference for the future.
“When I was young, we didn’t have any money,” Tom said. “Now we’ve made some money, and with our kids and grandkids, we can do stuff.”


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