January 30, 2022 at 7:39 p.m.

Four generations of progress

Rickerts have rich history in dairy industry
The Rickerts – (from left) Don, Jim, Andrew and Miles – stand in their 1,200-cow freestall barn Jan. 6 on their farm in Fond du Lac County near Eldorado, Wisconsin. Don Rickert has been influential in progressing the farm through the decades. PHOTO BY KATI KINDSCHUH
The Rickerts – (from left) Don, Jim, Andrew and Miles – stand in their 1,200-cow freestall barn Jan. 6 on their farm in Fond du Lac County near Eldorado, Wisconsin. Don Rickert has been influential in progressing the farm through the decades. PHOTO BY KATI KINDSCHUH

By Kati [email protected] | Comments: 0 | Leave a comment

ELDORADO, Wis. – What started as 33 cows and a team of horses has flourished into a family-run dairy farm amid America’s Dairyland for the Rickert family.
“Starting in 1976, all the boys seemed to be really interested in farming and hoped they could join us,” Don Rickert said. “This was the reason we decided to make the big investment to expand.”
Don is the patriarch of Rickland Farms, where his family milks 1,100 registered Holsteins in Fond du Lac County’s Eldorado. He is joined in a partnership with his sons, Jim and Greg, and their families. With four generations actively striving for progress, Rickland Farms has a strong foundation for its success.
The herd boasts a rolling herd average of 29,863 pounds with a 4.1% butterfat and 3.1% protein. Since 1994, they have received the Holstein USA’s Progressive Genetics Herd award, developing or breeding 140 Excellent cows with 46 multiple Excellents awarded, including one Elevation daughter who received her 5E designation. Over the last four decades, the Rickerts have focused on improving their herd’s type and health traits. With great success, they have sent over 90 bulls to stud.
“We are really happy with how our (Total Performance Indexes) have improved steadily while still improving production and health traits,” Jim said. “It takes a few generations to make significant changes, but we keep working to improve our herd’s genetics for the next generation.”
Don developed his family’s farm when he returned from the University of Wisconsin-Madison Farm and Industry Short Course in 1952. Growing up, he and his parents farmed 180 acres using a team of horses to do fieldwork.
“This changed when my parents, Eldor and Edna, got a combine in 1945, one of the first in the area,” Don said. “In 1949, we got a chopper, which was a much easier way to make hay.”
Don and his late wife’s, Lila’s, five children were involved on the farm growing up. Following college graduation in the early 1980s, both Jim and Greg returned to the family farm to pursue careers as dairy farmers.
“I liked learning from mentors and other students who had knowledge of great cattle genetics and herd management,” Jim said. “I didn’t show any animals at the county fair until I could drive. As soon as I got a taste of it, I invested in cattle with good genetics to help the herd and to take to shows.”
In 1981, Don and Lila formed a corporation. This enabled the boys to obtain shares and gain equity through the years.
“The farm financial crisis of the ‘80s took a toll on some area farmers,” Jim said. “But we were fortunate enough to have enough equity and less debt than others. Had we not, the farm could look very different today.”
Through the years, the farm has made smart buying decisions to grow their acreage to over 2,000 acres. This opened a window of opportunity to increase the herd size to accommodate their growing families.
In 1999, Jim and Greg formed a limited liability company. The Rickerts built a freestall barn and double-12 parallel parlor with the opportunity to expand the parlor to a double-16.
“It definitely has improved the amount of wear and tear on the body,” Jim said. “Milking in a stanchion barn is harder on the knees and back, and the parlor has allowed us to keep farming without too many health problems.”
Not only has the family continually improved their genetics and herd health, they have constantly looked for ways to make fieldwork more efficient.
In 2019, the farm purchased its own tiling equipment. Eldorado is 10 miles west of Lake Winnebago, and Jim said the farm has heavy red clay and low-lying silt loam soils.
“We decided to invest in the tiling equipment to create better drainage in the fields,” Jim said. “If you’ve ever farmed in clay soils, you know how difficult it can be in the spring and fall to get fieldwork done.”
At 88 years young, Don is not hitting the brakes quite yet. Aside from getting his knees replaced a decade ago, he continues to remain physically active on the farm and does the farm’s payroll and financials.
“Leaving the management to Jim and Greg is something that was hard to do, but I was happy to help when asked,” Don said. “I enjoy doing my own office work, which is why I think I feel young. It is said that you are only as old as you feel.”
Don also enjoys playing sheepshead twice a week and supporting his great-grandchildren in their endeavors, many of which he was involved in during his youth.
“It is fun to watch another generation grow up; most people don’t get that opportunity,” Don said.
The Rickert family’s community involvement has only prospered following Don. Jim, too, is a part of many community and industry groups.
This legacy that Don and Jim have created runs deep, as Jim’s son, Andrew, and grandson, Miles, continue to have the same passion for agriculture and the Holstein breed. Andrew took charge of hauling the farm’s milk in 2020. This involves transporting 47 loads per month and saves the farm over $1,500 each month. On the farm, Miles helps keep the heifer barns clean, feeds grain and hay to calves as well as feeds milk to younger calves.
“In the future, I want to continue to add technology to the farm, including automation to the tractors and field equipment,” Miles said.
In reflecting on the history of Rickland Farms, much of the farm’s success is credited to Don. He created an opportunity for himself to keep moving his farm forward and was innovative to stay competitive in an ever-evolving industry.
“I am proud we built an operation that was good enough that the next generation wanted to continue to build on,” Don said. “A farmer always takes pride in seeing the next generation take over what he has built.”


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