The Zwiegs’ cows are fed in an outdoor j-bunk. In 2012, the Zwiegs built a two-row freestall barn, in addition to the converted machine shed, to house cows.
The Zwiegs’ cows are fed in an outdoor j-bunk. In 2012, the Zwiegs built a two-row freestall barn, in addition to the converted machine shed, to house cows. PHOTO BY DANIELLE NAUMAN
    IXONIA, Wis. – From Day 1 of dairying with his family, Kyle Zwieg has been working to improve the family’s farm.
    Since returning in 2012 Zwieg has helped the farm grow – adding facilities for an expanded herd and improving the rolling herd average over 8,000 pounds of milk through the breeding and feeding programs Zwieg helped establish.  
    Today, Kyle Zwieg is the sixth generation of his family to operate the Zwieg’s Maple Acres along with his wife, Rachel. They farm in partnership with his parents, Joe and Lisa. While the farm started with 80 acres when it was homesteaded in 1856, it has grown to include nearly 400 acres in Dodge County. Zwieg has hopes that his children, Theodore, 2, and 1-year-old twins Logan and Landon, will have the opportunity to extend the family legacy to the seventh generation.
    Zwieg’s Maple Acres is home to 80 cows, housed in sand-bedded freestalls and milked in the farm’s original stanchion barn. The family farms a total of 950 acres, both owned and rented.
    “I wasn’t sure I wanted to dairy farm,” Zwieg said. “I went to the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Farm and Industry Short Course and studied soil science and agronomy, with the idea of doing cash grain. The second year I studied dairy science. Then I worked at Koepke Farms nearby. I say I earned the second half of my bachelor’s degree there.”
    Working at the Koepke’s dairy farm, Zwieg decided dairy farming was the right career choice for him. He set out to do it for himself as an owner. When he came home to join his parents in the dairy operation, they were milking 40 cows in the stanchion barn and the farm consisted of about 150 acres.
    That was in 2012, a year of extreme drought in southeastern Wisconsin. The Zwiegs transitioned from their current herd size and housing set-up to an 80-cow herd housed in one of two freestall barns.
    “Because of the drought, we made the transition as low-budget as possible,” Zwieg said. “We converted a machine shed into a two-row freestall with inside feeding. We built another two-row freestall barn where the cows are fed outside at a j-bunk.”
    Prior to the transition, the herd had a lactation average of 22,000 pounds of milk on twice a day milking. With lots of work and attention to detail, today the herd average is 30,700 pounds of milk, 1,155 pounds of fat and 979 pounds of protein on twice a day milking.
    Zwieg feels his breeding and feeding programs are the two cornerstones to his herd’s production success. He focuses his efforts on improving his crops and dairy herd.
    “We have a great nutritionist, Nick Uglow from VitaPlus, and a great vet, Dr. Nick Mayer from the Mayville Animal Clinic,” Zwieg said, crediting their advice as an important piece in the success of his herd.
    When selecting sires, Zwieg puts the greatest focus on net merit and cheese merit, as well as considering health traits. His goal is to breed moderately-sized cows that are functionally sound.
    “There’s been a divergence in the breeding philosophy,” Zwieg said. “My dad selected sires more based on TPI, and was a little more interested in showring type than I am. I want to breed profitable cows that can last.”
    Zwieg uses primarily genomic young sires in his matings, and believes that is the best way to get the net merit numbers high enough to make the improvements he wants.
    The Zwiegs raise their own replacement animals and sell dairy replacements to local customers, which provides another source of income for the farm. Zwieg has started breeding the bottom 15 percent of the herd to Angus and is using sexed semen on the top 15 percent.
    Zwieg said he and his father are strict about the harvesting of the forages they use in the TMR fed to their cows, using a 28-day cutting cycle for their low-lignin alfalfa. They grow conventional hybrid corn for silage, as opposed to using BMR silage corn. The Zwiegs have taken part in several feed trials and will be working with Syngenta to trial an Enogen® hybrid corn.
    While Zwieg does the simple ration work himself, Uglow comes to the farm to take forage samples every two weeks and consults on the overall rations.
    “Nick says we’re setting a new ceiling for twice a day production,” Zwieg said. “He plays a huge role in the increases in our herd average.”
    Zwieg credits Dr. Mayer as being extremely progressive, particularly in making improvements to the herd’s reproductive performance. Last year, the herd pregnancy rate was at 31 percent. He breeds on natural heats when he can up until 90 days in milk, and then uses ovsynch or lut-to-breed after 90 days.
    Zwieg said Dr. Mayer brought a university study to his attention about how an ovsynch and lut-to-breed program can benefit significantly from a double-lut done before breeding.
    “In the higher production cows, their lungs will filter out the lut before it can impact their reproductive tract,” Zwieg said, noting that he’s seen a 12 percent increase in heat quality and conception when giving a morning and evening lut shot prior to breeding.
    “There has been a stark difference in the intensity of their heat since starting the double-lut,” Zwieg said. “Lut-to-breed used to be our poorest pregnancy rate, but now it’s equaled out.”
    In determining the future of his farm, Zwieg cited two paths he feels he can choose from.
    “We could go with a more massive expansion, building a parlor, or we could make a more modest expansion using robots,” Zwieg said. “The ultimate goal is to be able to milk three times a day.”
    While Zwieg acknowledges that robots are costlier, they may allow him to stay small by today’s industry standards, expanding to 120 cows milked with two robots. The Zwiegs are in the early stages of planning and creating the groundwork for the expansion with hopes to have the new barn and robots in operation by the end of 2020.
    “Robots are a solution for labor issues,” Zwieg said. “I want to stay dairying, and robots seem to be the way to do that for us.”
    Zwieg isn’t concerned about the size of his dairy farm determining its ability to be successful in the future.
    “I believe there is room for every size of farm. I don’t have plans for endless expansion for myself,” Zwieg said. “I just want to grow enough to be able to capture the benefits of efficiency and technology.”