Steven van Doorn
Tony, Wisconsin
Rusk County
90 cows

How did you get into farming? I was born into it; I’m a fourth-generation dairy farmer. I didn’t think I wanted to farm until I went on a 4-H trip to Indianhead Holsteins, plus to World Dairy Expo the same year. It opened my eyes to a different side of the industry. It definitely showed me that farming can be more than making milk; I got introduced to the genetics side of dairy farming.

What are your thoughts and concerns about the dairy industry for the next year? My concerns are of course the money, not only for milk but for beef as well. Also, with being a small farm, I worry about whether I’ll have a market in future. It has gotten to be a big issue in a lot of places, just not here yet. With the changes in the industry the last few years the market for good quality registered cattle has dropped significantly, and that is a source of income this farm relies on to continue with our ET flushing program.

What is the latest technology you implemented on your farm and the purpose for it? This may sound odd, but Facebook has been my best addition for the farm in last 10 years. It has helped me advertise my cow families, has introduced me to a whole new market for embryos, bulls, young cows, etc. The last few cow families I’ve purchased into were because of what I saw of them on Facebook; otherwise I wouldn’t have known about them. After I quit working sales and shows, I wasn’t seeing first-hand what daughters of bulls were looking like, and thanks to Facebook I’m able to see many pictures plus what other people’s opinions are.

What is a management practice you changed in the past year that has benefited you? Going from being more production-minded to focusing more on higher fat and protein percentages and breeding cows back much earlier. I’m not getting the big records that we used to, it costs less than getting the big milk from them. I have always been fonder of high-testing, long-lasting cows that breed back easily and have a good type score as well.

What cost-saving steps have you implemented during the low milk price? After four years of these prices, just like most people, we’ve cut back the best we can in all areas possible. We purchase all our grains and bedding here as well as some baled hay every year, so I’m always looking to trim those costs. I’m considering going to more pasturing in the summer to cut input costs, and have also been doing some changes with the dry cow and fresh cow programs.

How do you retain a good working relationship with your employees? It’s all family, no hired help here. I guess I’d say I buy my nieces and nephews a lot of candy to keep them happy when they’re helping with chores.

Tell us about a skill you possess that makes dairy farming easier for you. Fitting. I worked for farms and doing sales and shows for quite a while, and I learned a lot about presenting the cows to either the classifier, for farm tours or for shows. I was lucky to have been able to work with and for some of best in the business, which I am grateful for. That knowledge has helped me a lot through the years.

What do you enjoy most about dairy farming? The genetics. I love the art of breeding good quality cows that work for me. I love the thrill of watching cow families that my family has been breeding and developing for 40 to 50 years, go into the showring, make a class-leading record, put sons in A.I. or go to other farms as foundation breeding stock. The best reward for a breeder is to see his genetics go into other farms and do well for their program.

What advice would you give other dairy farmers? Keeping a positive attitude is hard in these times, but it helps at end of day. Keep looking for ways to improve. Never get stuck in the rut of this-is-how-we’ve-done-it-for-years thinking. No matter how well a farm is run, there’s always room to improve and change.

What has been the best purchase you have ever made on your farm? Back in the 1970s, my dad bought the only Jersey calf ever here. That $220 investment has done well for the farm. When I took over the cow management 10 years ago, I had no intention of milking many because I didn’t care for them. They have grown on me lately. They breed back quickly and are high-test, headache-free cows. The Jersey herd averages just under 90 points in score, so not much to complain about. I always tell people that the Jerseys pay the bills.

What has been your biggest accomplishment while dairy farming? Having bred and owned a two-time World Dairy Expo champion, Lauren, has been my happiest and proudest time of my life. Growing up, I dreamed of showing or working with some of the top cows walking the colored shavings at Expo. To be a part of Lauren’s successful career has been a dream come true.

What are your plans for your dairy in the next year and five years? With the state of the industry, for the next year, getting the bills paid is at the top of list. In the next five years, the hope is to update the milking cow barns. They’re in need of upkeep, plus looking to remodel one barn for special cows and heifers. I have no interest in growing in cow numbers or land, but I am always looking at ways to improve the care of the cows. Also, my niece has taken a liking to the Ayrshires so I’m sure I’ll be adding more of them in near future.

How do you or your family like to spend time when you are not doing chores? I enjoy taking the nieces and nephews fishing in the summer, deer shining in the fall, and in the spring time, we go looking for deer sheds. Sometimes in the winter we’re lucky and will find bear dens to watch until spring. I like doing pretty much anything involving wildlife. I like taking an afternoon drive around the neighborhood, looking at the crops or heading north to the big woods to see the elk or look at the logging areas. If I’m not with the cows, I prefer being in the woods.