Continuing the legacy

Vesbach shares passion for dairying with sons

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VIROQUA, Wis. – When Gerald Vesbach counts his blessings, the opportunity to farm is among them. Vesbach’s father helped him get started farming, and now Vesbach is helping his sons, the fifth generation, do the same.
“I grew up on a farm,” Vesbach said. “I’ve always wanted to farm and here I am. I’ve been right here on this farm for 46 years.”
Vesbach milks 70 cows in a tiestall barn with his son, Trent, near Viroqua. The pair also own approximately 400 acres and rent another 300 acres of hay and diversify by selling organic hay as a cash crop, which Vesbach began doing about 18 years ago.
“I wanted to be more diversified than just a milk check,” Vesbach said. “I could plainly see that it wasn’t going to happen to just milk cows and make a go of it. Something had to change.”
Vesbach further diversified by raising beef cows over 20 years ago, beginning with 20 cows and growing from within. Today, there are 80 cow-calf pairs on the farm.
Vesbach and Trent work together every day. Trent graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison Farm and Industry Short Course in 2014 and has been involved full time ever since. Trent has taken over milking while Vesbach checks on the beef cows and springing heifers. The pair work together to accomplish fieldwork and other daily tasks.  
While he works with Trent every day, he also helped his other son, Phillip, get into farming as well. When a farm that he had rented for a long time came up for sale, Vesbach purchased it and moved his switch cows to that barn where Phillip and his wife now farm.
Farming roots run deep in the Vesbach family. In 1911, Vesbach’s grandfather bought the family’s original farm site in Muskego, where Vesbach’s father grew up. Once Vesbach’s father had a family of his own, he branched out and bought the farm in Viroqua when Vesbach was 17 years old.
At first, the family divided and conquered to farm both residences. Vesbach stayed at the Muskego farm from spring through fall while his father moved to Viroqua to get the new farm ready. This included installing a bulk tank and, later on, a barn cleaner chain.
When Vesbach joined his father in Viroqua in the fall of 1976, they brought 14 Jersey cows with them. The barn held 31 cows, so the family purchased enough to fill the barn. Between Vesbach, his three brothers and their father, they milked the 31 cows by hand for the whole first year.
“My dad believed that if you kept your hands and minds busy on the farm then you didn’t have time for foolishness,” Vesbach said. “Plus, the 14 cows we moved here had never been milked with a machine.”
The family continued to make improvements to the Viroqua facilities by putting in a barn cleaner chain, adding on to the bull pen and installing fans. In the meantime, Vesbach worked at another farm to learn how to milk with machines. He brought the knowledge home to use on his family’s farm.
By the time Vesbach graduated high school in 1977, the farm was up and running. Once Vesbach turned 18, his dad moved out, and Vesbach stayed to farm. His dad bought another farm to get Vesbach’s brother started in dairying. Once that farm was up and running, he bought a third farm near Richland Center for his youngest son to get started on.
“That was my dad’s theory,” Vesbach said. “He helped his boys and thought it was the girls’ husbands’ obligation to finance and get something from their family to make their deal happen.”
Vesbach said the worst he ever had to work through were the high interest rates in the 1980s.
“That was a struggle,” Vesbach said. “I just kept working hard.”
Vesbach said he did a little bit of everything to help work through the hard times. He did a lot of custom farming which included filling silos, picking ear corn, moldboard plowing and planting corn all while running his own farm. He also rented extra ground to make small square hay bales to sell for additional income.
While Vesbach is a dairy farmer through and through, his other passion lies in Minneapolis Moline tractors. His uncle was a Minneapolis Moline dealer so that is what the family farmed with growing up. Vesbach owns two tractors from his childhood which he has since restored and uses every day.
Vesbach said he is happy being his own boss and credits his parents for helping him get started.
“I guess the long and the short of it is that I’m living the dream,” Vesbach said. “My parents were very good teachers.”
Like his father, Vesbach has passed the dream on to his sons. And so, the circle continues.

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