Marty Vanderstappen pets Penelope, a farm favorite at Dutch-Made. Marty spends a lot of time with the cows as the farm’s herd manager.
Marty Vanderstappen pets Penelope, a farm favorite at Dutch-Made. Marty spends a lot of time with the cows as the farm’s herd manager. PHOTO BY STACEY SMART

    LAKE GENEVA, Wis. – Following in his father’s footsteps and becoming a dairy farmer is all Marty Vanderstappen ever wanted to do. He had no intentions of obtaining any kind of further education after high school. His plans were to farm full time once he graduated. So, when his mom and dad insisted he go to college, Marty was not happy. The last thing he wanted was to spend four years away from the farm.

    “I saw how successful my dad was without college and thought, ‘Why do I need to go?’” Marty said. “I didn’t like school and didn’t plan to go until my parents gave me an ultimatum. They said, ‘If you don’t go to college, you’ll be our employee and have to pay rent, buy your own food, etc.’ I thought I was going to call my parents’ bluff, but by February of my senior year, I realized they were for real and not about to back down, so I began applying to colleges.”
    Marty is one of seven children and the brother of six sisters. Marty and his siblings grew up working on the farm – feeding calves and milking cows as soon as they could reach the pipeline.
    “It was instilled in us from a young age that work is part of growing up on a farm,” Marty said.
    He and his sister, Adrianna, now farm together with their father, Martin “Mart.” Their mother, Nancy, takes care of the farm’s bookkeeping. Marty heads up herd management, and Adrianna is in charge of calves. These third-generation farmers were expected to get a college education if they wanted to run the family farm someday.
    Marty ended up at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls, and Adrianna went to the University of Wisconsin-Platteville.  
    “I purposely picked the option that was farthest away thinking my parents would be calling me back home before long,” Marty said. “But that never happened.”
    Marty liked the social aspect of school but did not care for the academics. Still, whenever he came home to visit, he shared with his dad the things he had learned.
    “My dad would say, ‘Yeah, I know,’” Marty said. “I kept telling him the latest and greatest and his response was always the same. I questioned why I was even going to school if he already knew it all. I’ll never forget what he said in response: ‘Marty, what took me 40 years to learn, you’re learning in four.’ Those words put me back in my place.”
    After earning a degree in agriculture studies and a minor in dairy science, Marty returned to the farm in December 2011 and hit the ground running.
    “I thought I was going to set the world on fire,” Marty said. “But my dad told me, ‘This is no sprint, it’s a marathon.’”
    Marty jumped into cow health and herd management and never looked back. He took on reproductive work, and his dad taught him how to breed. He followed specific breeding protocols and instituted an ovsynch program which was the first big change the college graduate made on the farm. Marty also got into fieldwork and planting.
    “I was in it all,” Marty said. “I followed my dad around learning every aspect of the farm. I’m still learning every day. If you’re not learning, you’re not being progressive.”
    Adrianna came back to the farm in the spring of 2013 after earning a dairy science degree. She chose calf care and management as her specialty. Before a calf even hits the ground, she is involved, watching and moving dry cows and getting ready to welcome new calves.
    The old stanchion barn was converted into calf housing, and in 2014, the family shifted from individual calf pens to mob feeding with milk bars. Calves are housed individually for the first week of life and then moved to pens where they are housed in groups of eight. The new feeding style increased capacity from 48 calves to 60-plus. The change was a positive for calf health and also made cleaning a cinch as the barn can now be cleaned with a skidsteer. Adrianna cares for calves until 10 months of age at which point Marty and Mart take over.
    “Adrianna has a huge heart for animals,” Marty said. “She has a motherly instinct and the gift of patience with calves. God bless her for that. I can handle feeding calves for a couple days, but that’s about it. Thankfully, she’s rarely gone. I don’t know how she does it. She provides really consistent care.”
    The Vanderstappens were milking 400 cows when Marty and Adrianna returned from college.
    “Adrianna and I wanted to stay at 400,” Marty said. “But Dad wanted to get bigger, so we got overruled. Within a month, we went from 400 to 525 cows. It was not Dad’s first expansion, but for me, it was overwhelming.”
    The expansion was necessary to support Marty’s and Adrianna’s return to the farm.
    “At the time, I didn’t think it was a good decision,” Marty said. “But now that we’re here, I love it. Right now, we’re milking 580 cows which is the most we’ve ever had. It’s exciting to me how we’ve built this herd up. Dad had quite a vision for this farm.”
    The Vanderstappens run 700 acres of land of which they own 500 acres and rent 200. Cows are milked three times a day in a double-10 herringbone parlor that was built in 2008 – the same year Marty went off to college.
    “I was mad,” Marty said. “I wanted to be there for that.”
    In 2017, the family added what Adrianna named the NICU – a facility for newborn calf care, which includes calving pens and a warming room attached to the barn that houses dry cows and breeding heifers. Newborns spend the first 24 hours of life in the warming room until completely dry before moving to the calf barn.
    Marty said they took their herd to the next level three years ago when they began using rumination and activity monitors.
    “It’s been nothing but a real treat,” Marty said. “It makes it so much easier to manage cows. I feel a little disconnect not walking in the pens every day, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. I think the world of this system.”
    Marty no longer relies on ovsynch protocols and instead breeds according to a good, natural standing heat.
    “We hardly give any repro shots anymore,” Marty said. “Instead, we let the cows tell us when they’re ready. We never skipped a beat when we switched to this system. Actually, we skipped a beat forward and jumped ahead by using it. Cow health has been fantastic, too. Now it’s about preventative treatment versus playing catchup.”
    Barns are full at the Vanderstappen farm, and Marty said they are using beef semen heavily. They also use some sexed semen and a little bit of conventional on cows that stand the test of time.
    “There will be no more expansion here,” Marty said. “We’re landlocked. Our goal is to be as progressive and efficient as we can with the animals that we have. The well-being of our animals is No. 1. We always try to do the absolute best we can for them. We also make sure our employees are happy. We have 12 full-time and part-time employees, and we couldn’t do any of this without them.”
    Marty is looking to do bigger and better things to move the farm further ahead. He would like to expand his horizons and transition into the agronomy side of things on the dairy and currently works with his dad on nutrient management, planting and field work.
    “I love what I do with the cows,” Marty said. “And I’m proud of where I brought this herd to, but I don’t like being stuck in the barn all day. We fixed problems we saw with cows to the point we don’t have to do very much to get big changes anymore. Now I see where we are lacking – the fields, soils, planting and stewardship of the land, which is where I would like to focus all my energy. I want to fix other areas of the farm so we can fire on all cylinders.”
    A generational transition from Mart to Marty and Adrianna is the next big step for this farm as the brother and sister duo look to take over their father’s legacy. Two years ago, the dairy changed its name from Dutch-Made Holsteins to Dutch-Made LLC – a move which Marty said put the transition in motion. He and his sister have also become more independent in their decision-making, looking less to their father for answers.
    “The freestall barn is now a well-oiled machine,” Marty said. “Do we put someone in here to replace me? Do we replace Dad with someone eventually? These are questions we’ll need to answer in the near future.”
    The Vanderstappens have made improvements along the way and continue to look for opportunities to better the operation. Marty is hopeful that after surviving the last few years, the outlook for 2020 will be brighter.
    “Farming is a struggle at times, but we still have the willpower to get up the next day even if we had a bad day yesterday,” Marty said. “We live and die for this, and the family support to keep going is incredible.”