Ms Gildale So Starstruck-ET is pictured standing on top of the senior 2-year-old class at the Midwest Spring National Show May 1 in Jefferson, Wisconsin. This cow is one Erik Gilbertson’s favorite cows. 
Photo courtesy of Dairy Agenda Today
Ms Gildale So Starstruck-ET is pictured standing on top of the senior 2-year-old class at the Midwest Spring National Show May 1 in Jefferson, Wisconsin. This cow is one Erik Gilbertson’s favorite cows. Photo courtesy of Dairy Agenda Today

    HOLLANDALE, Wis. – Erik Gilbertson’s goal is simple: Breed cows he will enjoy seeing every morning when he walks into the barn.
    That goal earned him and his wife, Brenda, the Wisconsin Holstein Association 2020 Distinguished Young Breeder award.
    With the absence of a Wisconsin Holstein Convention in February, where the award is traditionally presented, the Gilbertsons were recognized during the Midwest National Spring Show May 1 in Jefferson.

    The recognition took on a special light for the Gilbertsons. While they were being honored, they had two cows competing in the senior 2-year-old class. When the dust settled, Ms Gildale So Starstruck-ET VG-86 placed on top of the class, while her herdmate, Our Favorite She Vintage-ET VG-88, placed seventh.
    The Gilbertsons milk 52 cows on their farm located near Hollandale. Gilbertson is the fourth generation of his family to farm, and the couple’s children – Makenna, 10, Elise, 8, Naydeen, 5, Janelle, 2, and Braxton, 3 months, – are the fifth.     
    The young couple purchased an interest in the Gilbertson family farm in 2008 and continued to increase their investment until they had purchased both the home farm and Gilbertson’s grandfather’s farm. Gilbertson’s father, Mark, continues to work on the farm.
    “I’m very thankful for all the help my dad gives me on the farm,” Gilbertson said. “And my mom helps out so much with the kids; that helps us out a lot.”
    Breeding a quality herd of registered Holsteins is something Gilbertson puts thought and effort into with the focus of his program being high-type cows that remain youthful for several lactations. That is evident by the 18 Excellent, 24 Very Good and 7 Good Plus cows that reside in the barn, with a herd BAA of 111.1%.
    “I want to breed something that everyone else might want,” Gilbertson said. “I like to go to the shows and sales and see the daughters of bulls people are using and what the market is looking for.”
    Walking the fine line of deciding what sires to use can be tricky, Gilbertson said.
    “I typically don’t like using young sires, but I also don’t want to fall behind on the popular in-demand genetics,” Gilbertson said.
    Following the shows and sales and talking to other breeders helps Gilbertson determine when a young sire might merit consideration.
    Current bulls being used in the Gildale breeding program include Walnutlawn Sidekick, Duckett Crush Tatoo and Croteau Lesperron Unix. Gilbertson has also continued to use bulls such as Scientific B Defiant, Mr Chassity Gold Chip, Val-Bisson Doorman and Walnutlawn Soloman.
    When considering matings, Gilbertson looks at each cow on an individual level, determining strengths and weaknesses to make corrective matings and continue toward the ultimate goal of breeding the next great one.
    “I would love to breed a cow that could stand in the top three at World Dairy Expo,” Gilbertson said of his desire to win, place or show at Expo.
    “Longevity is important to me,” Gilbertson said. “I really like cows that can last a long time. Ironically, our herd is as young right now as it has been in a long time, but we have been calving in some really nice young cows the last couple of years. I think they will be the kind that can last for a long time.”
    With several cow families in the herd, Gilbertson is hard-pressed to find one that trumps the others as a favorite, but he can pick one cow that holds a special spot. That cow is Starstruck, the 2-year-old class winner at the spring show in Jefferson.
    “Starstuck’s mother was always a favorite cow of mine,” he said. “We lost her last summer right before the state show during a really hot spell. I took that really hard, but the way Starstruck calved in, I see a lot of her mother in her, and I can only hope she will transmit as well.”
    Starstruck is a Walnutlawn Soloman daughter from an EX-94 Atwood daughter.
    The Gilbertsons place a great deal of focus on cow comfort. They have installed mattresses and aisle mats and fans, and have changed the neck rails of their stalls and added more box stalls into the barn. Getting cows on pasture to graze and exercise is another important part of the Gilbertsons’ management plan.
    The Gilbertsons’ appreciation for the registered Holstein industry does not end at the barn door. The family is active in both the Wisconsin and the Iowa County Holstein associations and are involved in the planning committee for the annual District 3 Show.
    “It has been good to have shows and sales again,” Gilbertson said of the comradery and friendships gleaned from association activities. “Being able to see and talk to other breeders gives us something to keep going. It helps combat all the negativity we face day in and day out.”
    While Gilbertson expressed pride at being selected as the distinguished young breeder, he maintains that what he is most proud of is the family he and Brenda are raising on the family farm.
    “Brenda does everything that I am not able to get to,” Gilbertson said. “And our kids are growing up to learn the importance of responsibility and a good work ethic. My family is by far my greatest achievement.”