January 30, 2022 at 6:13 p.m.

Dairy Profile: Dustin Melius

Dustin Melius (pictured with his fiancée, Marlena Oechsner, and their children, Jedidiah (left) and Ezekiel)
Slinger, Wisconsin
Washington County
100 cows

How did you get into farming? I have been involved in farming since I was a youngster. I was riding in the tractor with my dad as long as I can remember. I learned how to mow the lawn, and once I could reach the clutch, I was taught how to drive a tractor.

What are your thoughts and concerns about the dairy industry for the next year? Is the milk price for real, and how long can it stay there? It would be great to see family farms be sustainable, but I’m afraid that larger dairies will expand with rising milk prices, flooding the market.

What is a recent change you made on your farm and the reason for it? We have been breeding more with beef bulls. We have never had a shortage of heifers so it is nice to get cows pregnant sooner and receive four to five times as much for a calf.

Tell us about a skill you possess that makes dairy farming easier for you. I have no quit in me. My fiancée asks me, “How are you still going?” after numerous long days. The response she normally gets is that I have to. We only have a few part-time employees who assist with the milking so the majority of the work falls on myself and my 71-year-old father. Whatever needs to get done will get done as long as my body is able.

What is the best decision you have made on your farm? We experimented with three-times-a-day milking on a couple occasions, but I am confident that twice-a-day is where we will be staying. The cows are more comfortable; the employees, my dad and myself are less stressed; and it is more cost effective. We were rushing chores or fieldwork in order to get back to the barn for the next milking. It was chaotic and exhausting. I don’t see us trying it again.

What are three things on the farm that you cannot live without? My morning bagel. Maybe not exactly, but my fiancée, Marlena, makes me a bagel every day before she leaves for work. She is my rock and the foundation of my life. Without her help and support, the farm and I would be nothing. My employees are essential. It is so difficult to compete in today’s job market because either you can’t pay enough to keep good people, or there isn’t anyone who wants to do farm work anymore. I appreciate my team and try to show them that every day. Last, but not least, is my faith in God. He is the one who has given me the abilities to keep doing this for this long and keep our family farm alive. He is always watching over my family and farm. We are blessed.

What strategies do you use to withstand the volatile milk prices? We have been more aware of beef prices and what our breakeven is on the cows so we don’t hang onto problem cows as long as we used to. We have enough replacement heifers so we have the flexibility to keep good-uddered, young cows as the majority in the herd.

How do you retain a good working relationship with your employees? How do you maintain family relationships while also working together? I treat my employees with the highest respect. Without them, we would not be the farm we are today. I treat them how I would want to be treated if I was an employee and make sure they know they are appreciated. As for family relationships, anyone who has worked in the dairy industry with family knows there are good days, and there’s everything else. Family is who get you through the roughest times so you can share a smile on the days where you accomplished the task. Sure, sometimes you get upset at your family, but tomorrow is a new day. 

What do you enjoy most about dairy farming? Pride. Seeing the fruits of my labor. Even though the media or activists might try to belittle what we do, I’m making a difference. I have a purpose, and until I feel that my purpose isn’t to farm, I will keep on.

What advice would you give other dairy farmers? You are not alone. This industry is brutal. Sometimes you don’t see or talk to anyone off the farm for days, but it is important to socialize with someone. I take one night a week to bowl with my buddies. If I don’t get that, it puts a damper on my mood. Most people will listen, so vent if you need to. Mental health is important.

What are your plans for your dairy in the next year and five years? Our future is kind of hazy at the moment. With having two small children and a father who is at the age of retirement, I have to make a decision of which direction the farm and I will be going. I love farming, but I love my family more so we need to do what is best for us. We will be planting the crops in spring so as far as this year goes, we have to keep moving.

How do you or your family like to spend time when you are not doing chores? My children are small so they love getting to do anything and everything around the farm as long as it’s with Daddy or Papa. As for me, I enjoy bowling on Thursday nights, and I have a passion for the game of Texas Hold’em. 


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