May 16, 2022 at 2:58 p.m.

Set on dairying

From teenage farmhand to independent farm owner
First-generation farmer, Adam Vanden Wymelenberg and his wife, Marie, and their children – (from left) Oscar, Ezra and Mabel – milk 155 cows and farm 280 acres near De Pere, Wisconsin. The Vanden Wymelenbergs purchased the farm in 2017. PHOTO BY STACEY SMART
First-generation farmer, Adam Vanden Wymelenberg and his wife, Marie, and their children – (from left) Oscar, Ezra and Mabel – milk 155 cows and farm 280 acres near De Pere, Wisconsin. The Vanden Wymelenbergs purchased the farm in 2017. PHOTO BY STACEY SMART

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

DE PERE, Wis. – At the age of 13, Adam Vanden Wymelenberg got his first job. By working on a dairy farm, he kicked off his dream of becoming a farmer someday. The son of an electrician and a dog groomer, Vanden Wymelenberg would be the first in his family to dairy farm. Starting with six cows in his grandpa’s pig barn, this first-generation farmer now milks 155 cows near De Pere on a farm he purchased in 2017.

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“Farming has been a goal of mine ever since I can remember,” Vanden Wymelenberg said. “I was always fascinated by farming and glued to watching tractors. I caught the farming bug when I was pretty young.”
Vanden Wymelenberg worked his first job until he graduated from high school, building up knowledge on the industry.
“First, I learned how smaller farms ran, and then I went to a larger farm and learned how those operate, so I have experience in both,” he said.  
Vanden Wymelenberg and his wife, Marie, have three children – Ezra, 4, Mabel, 3, and Oscar, 15 months – as well as another child on the way. Marie is an emergency room trauma nurse who cut back on her hours to stay home with the kids but picks up shifts as time allows. Vanden Wymelenberg has one full-time employee and a handful of high schoolers who help primarily on evenings and weekends. His 280 acres of crops are custom done by a neighbor.
In total, Vanden Wymelenberg has milked at three locations, beginning with the farm he purchased from his grandpa in 2009. The barn was set up for raising pigs, but Vanden Wymelenberg transformed it for use with heifers. His first milk cow was an animal he took on at the coaxing of a friend – a special needs heifer that suffered a stroke and struggled to use the left side of her body.
“She became my project animal,” Vanden Wymelenberg said. “I ended up breeding her, and she freshened in and did good. I milked her with a portable pump and added on a few more cows.”
When he reached a half dozen milking but was dumping the milk, he knew he needed to either dive in completely or quit. He started looking for herds to buy and a barn to rent. At the time, he was working for a large dairy as a herdsman.
“The herd manager on that farm was a really good mentor,” Vanden Wymelenberg said. “He put me in places on the dairy where I would benefit most if I decided to go out on my own. He also connected me with other farms in the state I could potentially buy cows from.”
Vanden Wymelenberg found a barn to rent and later a herd of 62 cows for sale on Facebook. When he and Marie got married the following summer, the couple he bought the cows from offered to come milk on their wedding day. Vanden Wymelenberg milked in that second barn for nearly two years, but with no opportunity to buy the farm, he began looking for a facility where he could set down roots.
“It was a real blessing I found this farm,” he said. “The owners were great people to work with. I couldn’t ask for anything better. They were looking to retire and had no one to take over, so this was a really good match. When they got done milking that last morning, we brought our cows in that afternoon. The barn never sat empty.”
Vanden Wymelenberg milked in the farm’s 62-stall tiestall barn for two years before building a parlor and freestall barn in 2019.
“It was a terrible year to build with all the mud,” he said. “The week we broke ground on the barn it started raining and never stopped.”
Vanden Wymelenberg also bought another herd of 60 predominantly Red and White Holstein cows and switched until the barn was built. He bought used stalls for the swing-10 parlor which was retrofitted into the tiestall barn. The 3-row, 113-stall, tunnel-ventilated freestall barn with an enclosed feed lane is attached to the tiestall barn, allowing for good cattle flow according to Vanden Wymelenberg.
“Making the best use of time is important to me, and this setup allowed us to be more efficient,” he said. “Efficiency is huge to me. I’m always trying to improve our facilities as time and money allow. We have less manual labor than before, and it’s just easier for everyone. I also like the year-round exercise cows get in the freestall barn, and I can monitor heats better.”
The remaining part of the tiestall barn is used to house breeding-age heifers. Vanden Wymelenberg likes its proximity to the parlor, making it easy to watch for heats. Dry cows are located on the far end of the barn where he converted the stalls to green flex stalls for added comfort. The former dry cow area is now used as a maternity and special needs pen.
The freestall barn was built so that Vanden Wymelenberg could mirror the image to the east in the future if he wants to expand. Cows rest on deep-bedded sand stalls, and Vanden Wymelenberg said it was interesting to see the response in production due to the change in accommodations.
“Late-lactation animals bumped up about 5 pounds, and everyone that was fresh took off like crazy,” he said. “Our somatic cell count is also easier to control with three-times-a-day milking and having the cows on sand. We also cut milking time in half going to the freestall/parlor setup. That was a huge benefit.”
Vanden Wymelenberg, who ships his milk to Lamers Dairy in Appleton, went to milking three times per day when the coronavirus pandemic started.
“My high school help had nothing else to do, so I figured why not try it,” he said. “I enjoy it, and the cattle enjoy it. And that third milking definitely helped with production, which increased by 10%. Feed intakes also went up 4 pounds per head.”
Vanden Wymelenberg takes many of the morning and afternoon shifts, which allows him to be with his kids in the evening while high school help covers the night milking.
“Those high school kids have been very good help to me,” he said. “I couldn’t make it without them.”
In addition, the previous owner of the farm comes to help every day, feeding heifers and doing other chores as needed.
“He’s a good guy and enjoys being involved with the farm,” Vanden Wymelenberg said. “The knowledge I get from him is invaluable. He has so much experience.”
Vanden Wymelenberg attended Fox Valley Technical College for two years where he earned an associates degree in agribusiness science and technology and currently takes night classes through Northeast Wisconsin Technical College in the winter. Although he is the only farmer in his family, entrepreneurship is in Vanden Wymelenberg’s blood. Many of his relatives either own or manage a business. His mom owned a dog grooming business, his uncles and cousins own the local grocery store, and his brother is a business owner in Minnesota.
“My parents have given me a lot of support on this journey, and I got a good sense of business from them,” Vanden Wymelenberg said.
Childhood career ambitions do not always pan out, but they did for Vanden Wymelenberg. He looked for opportunities to get where he wanted and took advantage of the resources that could help him accomplish his goals.  
“This has been the dream for a long time,” he said.


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