Maddie Schmidt greets a favorite show cow, Tessa, Feb. 25. at the farm owned by her partner, Bronson Schultz, near Wilton, Wisconsin. The first-generation farm began in 2014.
Maddie Schmidt greets a favorite show cow, Tessa, Feb. 25. at the farm owned by her partner, Bronson Schultz, near Wilton, Wisconsin. The first-generation farm began in 2014. PHOTO BY ABBY WIEDEMYER

WILTON, Wis. – When Bronson Schultz graduated from college in 2014, he decided it was now or never if he was going to farm.
“I either had to make a go of it or go find a different job,” Schultz said. “If you want to farm, you have to try. You better make it go, or you have to start working and put your money in a 401(k).”

Almost a decade later, Schultz is farming with the help of his girlfriend, Maddie Schmidt. The couple milks 40 cows in a tiestall barn near Wilton. The farm is home to Holsteins, Brown Swiss and a couple Jerseys.
They have taken intentional steps to keep the dairy going.
Schultz was able to purchase the facilities and 1.8 acres from a neighbor to get started. He lived with his parents down the road and purchased the barn and 32 cows.
“It was as bare bones as it could be,” Schultz said. “We started with a barn full of cows, a skid loader and a manure spreader. I had a tractor and a handful of heifers too. It did not equate to much.”
Schultz said it was convenient to be living nearby, and it was a way to get started without a lot of debt and without having to work in a partnership or rent a farm.
For the first two years, all the feed was purchased from neighboring farms. Schultz said it was important to keep a good relationship with whoever was growing the crops because it provided a place to haul manure.
“It’s a very good system if the guy making your feed cares as much about making it as you do feeding it,” Schultz said. “I could have called South Dakota and said bring me a semi load of 180 (relative feed value), but I can’t haul manure to South Dakota.”
Schultz has worked at a nearby feed mill throughout his dairy career. When Schmidt graduated college, she worked off the farm until 2020 when she joined the operation full time. Now, she has a part-time job as a receptionist at a veterinary clinic.
“I don’t know how else you do it if you want to milk this many cows,” Schultz said. “If you’re going to start from zero, I don’t know how somebody’s going to do it without some other form of income, whatever sort of subsidy it’s going to be.”
The couple found themselves in a slightly better position when they were able to secure rented land. Although it did not change their financial situation, it did allow them to have a surplus of feed. They were also able to purchase the house on the farm and some acreage with it. They currently own and rent a total of 170 acres.
All of the hay is baled and wrapped from around 70 acres of rented land. The other 100 acres is close to home, and the couple has a two-year rotation that includes cover crops.
The land is rotated between corn, fall triticale which is harvested for feed in spring and forage sorghum. Over the winter, a fast growing cover crop such as oats or clovers is planted and left in the ground. Manure is spread on top for additional winter cover.
“I can maximize the amount of tonnage close to home,” Schultz said. “When I chop and have to pull the old-style chopper boxes, I can make time.”
The couple faced a challenge last winter when an outbreak of salmonella went through their calves. After a seven-year streak of only losing two calves, they had 30 calves succumb to the illness in a matter of three months.
“I very much prided myself on my calves, and then last winter hit and it wiped out everything,” Schmidt said. “It’s hard to accept that everybody goes through those times and somehow you get through.”
Schmidt said having a good group of friends as a support system helped her get through the challenging time.
When they are not farming or working in town, Schultz likes to attend high school basketball games, and Schmidt enjoys showing cattle. The herd is 90% registered.
“My favorite thing about the farm is seeing the families develop,” Schmidt said. “That’s the coolest part because we are down to only a handful of cows that aren’t homebred.”
There are 26 heifers due to calve by the end of May, and another 18 due shortly after. With a 40-stall barn, they will have to decide which cow families to continue with or how many cows they want to switch to milk. There are 23 sand-bedded free stalls and 12 acres of pasture that make a little more room.
Schmidt said she enjoys watching the cow families develop.
“You have to find something you’re passionate about and something to look forward to,” Schmidt said. “When I get to see it go from a calf to a heifer to a cow, that’s cool. That’s what keeps me going.”