A farm for the whole family
Hildebrandt siblings dairy together in style
The Hildebrandt siblings – (from left) Kevin, Michael, Angie and Ray – milk 950 cows and farm 2,000 acres near South Beloit, Illinois. The farm is owned by their parents, Ken and Amy, and their uncle, Don. PHOTO BY STACEY SMART
SOUTH BELOIT, Ill. – Dairy farming was the career of choice for not one, not two, but for all four children of Ken and Amy Hildebrandt. Their love for the farm led them home, and each child wanted to be a part of the operation because it was their calling in life.
Michael, Kevin, Angie and Ray are the third generation to run Hildebrandt Farms near South Beloit where they milk 950 cows and farm 2,000 acres with the help of 14 employees. Michael was the first to return to the farm in 2011; Kevin came back in 2013, Angie in 2015 and Ray in 2019. The Hildebrandts range in age from 31 to 24, with Michael being the oldest and Ray the youngest.
Their return inspired an expansion in 2017 which more than doubled the size of the herd – taking the Hildebrandts from 400 cows to 950. New facilities were built, including an 800-stall cross-ventilated freestall barn and a 40-stall DeLaval rotary parlor. Over time, the farm has also grown in land.
“It’s been quite a change from a management standpoint going from 400 cows to over 900 cows,” Michael said. “It’s completely different in that we have more employees, we started milking three times a day, and we have a lot more heifers and calves.”
The Hildebrandts outgrew their indoor calf barn and went back to raising calves in outdoor hutches. The change in parlor style took some getting used to as the technology of the rotary was much different from their double-10 herringbone which they still use to milk fresh cows and hospital cows. The Hildebrandts also transitioned from a bulk tank to a chiller and direct load tanks.
“Cows like the rotary parlor,” Michael said. “It’s been a good fit for us.”
Each sibling has their own niche on the farm. Michael is the herdsman, Kevin is in charge of human resources and repairs, Angie takes care of calves, and Ray is responsible for feeding. Ken, Amy and Ken’s brother, Don, own the farm and oversee the operation.
“My mom used to do all the calves, but since Angie has taken over that area, Mom is doing more of the bookwork now instead of my grandma, Ann, who is phasing out of the operation,” Michael said. “My dad and uncle, Don, still do everything from working in the shop to milking cows or mixing feed.”
All of the Hildebrandt siblings returned to the farm after finishing college. Michael and Kevin attended the University of Wisconsin-Madison Farm and Industry Short Course. Michael attended for two years and Kevin for one year as he also went to diesel mechanic school for a year. Angie and Ray went to the University of Wisconsin-Platteville. Angie graduated with a degree in animal science and dairy science and Ray for agricultural business and dairy science.
The expansion, and a new generation stepping up to manage the farm, brought about many changes on Hildebrandt Farms. They went from milking twice a day to milking three times a day and using milk weights as a management tool. The family also went to a double ovsynch breeding program and began breeding heifers with sexed semen using A.I. Previously, heifers were bred by a bull. In addition, they started feeding pasteurized milk to calves. Making better culling decisions and breeding more animals to beef are some of their future goals.
“We won’t need as many replacements in the future, so it just makes sense to use more beef semen,” Michael said.
Kevin and Angie both got married last year, and Michael is getting married this summer. The Hildebrandt siblings look forward to raising their own families on the farm someday.
“We get along pretty well, and we all have the same vision,” Michael said. “We bounce ideas off each other, and with each of us having our own area that we specialize in, we’re not stepping on each other’s toes.”
With their children choosing the farm as their occupation, Ken and Amy are set up well to eventually transfer the operation into the hands of the following generation.
“We’re very happy the kids chose to farm with us,” Amy said. “It’s nice having everybody home. They were all part of the expansion, and everyone gets a vote on things. We built this for them, because they wanted to dairy farm.”
The expansion is also for co-owner Don’s children if they want to farm in the future, Amy said. Don’s children are in high school and help feed calves after school.
The farm has a long family history. Forced out of the Chicago area because of development, the Hildebrandts’ grandparents moved from Buffalo Grove in 1979 and began milking cows at the current location with their sons in 1981. Because their parents gave them a chance to farm, Ken and Don wanted to give their kids an opportunity to farm as well.
“Our kids make the decisions, and now we get bossed around by them,” Amy said. “I ask Angie questions about the calves now instead of vice versa. We’re all still working together, but we’re stepping back and letting them take over. And, I think they’re running the farm better than we did.”