June 14, 2022 at 2:46 p.m.

Set up for success

Ehmke sees opportunity in rental arrangement
Brandon and Shannon Ehmke and their sons – (from left) Braylen and Parker – milk 240 cows and farm 275 acres near Hartford, Wisconsin. The Ehmkes began renting the farm Dec. 1, 2020. PHOTO BY STACEY SMART
Brandon and Shannon Ehmke and their sons – (from left) Braylen and Parker – milk 240 cows and farm 275 acres near Hartford, Wisconsin. The Ehmkes began renting the farm Dec. 1, 2020. PHOTO BY STACEY SMART

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

HARTFORD, Wis. – Dec. 1, 2020, was a big day for Brandon Ehmke. Renting a farm five minutes from the farm where he grew up, it was the first day he began making his own mark in the dairy industry.
“I wasn’t out looking for this, but the opportunity came along, and it was too good to turn down,”  Ehmke said..
Ehmke, who is renting the farm on a seven-year lease contract, milks 240 cows and farms 275 acres near Hartford on a farm previously run by two business partners who were ready to retire from dairy farming. Ehmke purchased the herd of 190 cows from Level Acres Dairy and also brought along 40 of his own cows. Ehmke and his wife, Shannon, and their two sons, Braylen and Parker, now call the farm home.
Formerly known as Level Acres Dairy, the Ehmkes renamed the farm B&S Dairy Farms and created an LLC. Ehmke got a loan through Compeer Financial and said the transition went fairly smoothly.
“This was a big process with lots of details but having an open mind and working with all parties involved was helpful, and I have no regrets,” Ehmke said. “I signed for the farm right after my 25th birthday. It was quite the present.”
Prior to becoming his own boss, Ehmke worked for his parents as well as for a neighbor.
“The home farm wasn’t big enough to support everybody,” he said. “The farm sits next to a creek, and there were no opportunities for expansion.”
Since taking over, Ehmke has made a variety of improvements to the farm he rents. In the freestall barn, he installed headlocks and added more fans, putting in about a dozen 55-inch fans to bring the total to 15. Ehmke said the fans boost cow comfort, and milk production held steady during last summer’s heat while reproduction stayed consistent as well.
Ehmke also removed a bedding pack to add 14 more free stalls, creating a pen that houses fresh and treated cows. The freestall barn now contains 194 stalls. In the double-8 parallel parlor, Ehmke was required to replace the pipeline’s roll-on ferrules with weld-on ferrules. He also epoxied the parlor floor and rebuilt the crowd gate along with doing other miscellaneous repairs and maintenance throughout the farm. In the next year or two, Ehmke would like to get rumination and activity monitoring collars for his cows.
“About five years ago, the owners replaced old stalls with new ones and installed new curtains, so even though the barn is 25 years old, it is actually newer than that inside,” Ehmke said. “They took really good care of the farm over the years; it was well maintained. This is a turnkey operation, and turnkey farms like this don’t come up every day.”
Ehmke is hitting his production goals on twice-a-day milking with cows averaging 85 to 88 pounds per cow daily with 4.2% butterfat and 3.3% protein. Somatic cell count is less than 100,000. Over the last year and a half, Ehmke has added 40 Jerseys to his herd to help increase components.
Since branching out on his own, Ehmke continues to work closely with his parents, raising their heifer replacements and helping them in the field and with other tasks as needed. All calves are raised on Ehmke’s farm, and heifers are raised at three other locations.
“I freshen in all the heifers, and my parents come and get what they need for replacements,” Ehmke said.  
Earlier this year, Ehmke bought a Milk Taxi and is now feeding whole pasteurized milk to his calves – an investment he said improved calf health tremendously.
“When we were feeding unpasteurized milk, it was a nightmare keeping calves healthy and alive,” Ehmke said. “We had some clostridium in calves and were constantly fighting scours and sickness. Now, it’s a night and day difference as scours has dramatically reduced and overall health has improved. Calves look better at weaning age too.”
Ehmke and several neighbors work together on chopping and other cropping chores and share labor for forage harvesting. On his farm, Ehmke does the fertilizing, a neighbor handles the spraying, and his landlord takes care of planting.  
In addition to buying some equipment from the farm’s owners, Ehmke has also bought three tractors, a Discbine and a skid loader. Ehmke grows corn silage and haylage and buys grain corn from neighbors or his landlord. He uses the farm’s three silos – two are 20-feet by 80-feet and used for corn silage and one is a 20-by-50 used for high-moisture corn – and utilizes feed piles for haylage and corn silage.
Four full-time employees work on a rotating schedule and help with milking, scraping and feeding calves. In addition, two part-time high school students help with chores in the evenings and on weekends. His landlord is involved in the operation, helping Ehmke feed cows in the morning. Ehmke is responsible for herd health management, maintenance, heifer chores and fieldwork. Shannon does the bookwork in addition to taking care of the kids, running for parts, and doing other odds and ends.
“I worked at various farms to get other perspectives and did relief milking for some neighbors, and having that experience has helped me be successful in running my own farm,” Ehmke said. “It took the first whole year to get in a rhythm and get things rolling. It took a little time to get a feel for a different facility and working with different people as well as smoothing out the financial part of it.”  
Doing his own thing suits Ehmke well as he enjoys day-to-day farm life.
“The next goal is to pay down debt and pay on the line of credit,” he said. “When our lease is up, we’ll reevaluate what we’d like to do next. For now, we have a good setup, and we’re happy here.”


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