Kenny Leuer watches his Jerseys graze Sept. 20 at his farm near Oconto, Wisconsin. The herd is about one-third Jersey, which are grazed, and about two-thirds Holstein, which are not grazed.
PHOTO BY DANIELLE NAUMAN
Kenny Leuer watches his Jerseys graze Sept. 20 at his farm near Oconto, Wisconsin. The herd is about one-third Jersey, which are grazed, and about two-thirds Holstein, which are not grazed. PHOTO BY DANIELLE NAUMAN
OCONTO, Wis. – Kenny Leuer has always had the will to pursue a career as a dairy farmer.
As the fourth generation of his family to farm, all Leuer needed to do was find the best way to chase that dream.
It was through the Dairy Grazing Apprenticeship program that Leuer found what would become his pathway into dairy farming.
“I eventually connected with Daniel Olson through the grazing program,” Leuer said. “I worked with him on milk shares until I was eventually able to purchase his share.”
Leuer said operating a farm on shares with Olson gave him the opportunity to build equity to prepare for purchasing the operation outright, after using a Farm Service Agency loan to purchase cattle.
“I moved to the farm in northeastern Wisconsin on April 13, 2018,” Leuer said. “We got 3 feet of snow the next day; it was not the easiest start.”
While leaving his hometown and starting from scratch was challenging, it is a decision Leuer does not regret.
“This is such a strong dairy area,” he said. “I don’t think I would want to farm anywhere else. Everyone I work with – my vet, the nutritionist, equipment dealers, custom operators, consultants and sales reps – they have helped me to surround myself with a great team of people that all care about my farm and how I can succeed.”
Now, with his wife, Brianna, and two children, Kinsley and Kaenen, Leuer is milking 300 cows in a double-6 parlor. The herd is about one-third Jersey, which Leuer grazes, and about two-thirds Holstein, which are not grazed. The Leuers operate their farm with the help of four employees.
Leuer farms about 260 acres, putting up haylage for the herd, and he purchases his corn silage  and other feed from a neighboring farmer.    
Four and a half years into his dairy venture, Leuer is keeping his eye on what he wants the future to hold.                                                                                         
“I’d eventually like to be shipping a semi-load of milk a day,” Leuer said.             
Leuer works to keep profitability at the focus of his farm and makes decisions that help him toward the goals he hopes to reach.
In 2020, the Leuers remodeled their calf barn and installed automatic calf feeders.
“The automated calf feeders have been working out very well for us,” Leuer said. “Right now, we are transitioning to feeding whole milk rather than milk replacer.”
Robotic milking is an area Leuer is interested in exploring to allow him to expand his herd without the added strain of sourcing additional labor.
“I am lucky to have a great team of employees,” Leuer said. “I feel like robotic milking would work well to expand the herd and (continue) to be able to utilize my current employees’ time more efficiently.”
Leuer implemented the practice of milking three times per day this fall to help achieve greater efficiency and reach production goals.
“My goal is to get to that 80-pound per cow average,” Leuer said. “I put a lot of focus on high components as well, since we ship to a cheese factory. Ideally, I’d like to reach that level of a 4.5% average butterfat and a 3.5% average protein.”
To reap the most bang for his buck when it comes to replacement animals, Leuer has looked outside of the box.
“To maximize my efficiency, I started breeding for black beef calves as opposed to raising replacements,” Leuer said. “That allowed me to purchase cattle and build more equity.”
Leuer said for the cost of raising his replacements, he could purchase replacement animals while reaping the benefits of producing black beef calves that have a higher value.                                                     
After following that plan for a while, Leuer has reached the point where he is ready to delve into the task of bettering his herd. He purchased embryos from Semex and has been putting them in on a monthly basis to begin having dairy calves born on the farm this spring.     
“With those embryos, I will be able to improve both the production and genomic base of the herd,” Leuer said. “I have been shooting for the highest genetic net merit I can. I know the genetic merit that these calves will have based on their parent averages.”
Besides selecting the embryos based on production and genetic traits, Leuer looks at the udder confirmation traits, particularly traits that are considered suitable for a robotic milking system.
Promotion and sharing the story of agriculture and his own farm is another area Leuer is passionate about.
“I want for anyone to be able to come at any time and see how our farm operates; the things we do to care for our animals and for our land,” Leuer said. “I want to become an integral part of the dairy community and tell that story.”
While Leuer has experienced success with building his farm, his journey has not been without its arduous days.
“Some days, the mental stress of farming can wear on you,” Leuer said. “I try hard to find other outlets. I wrestled in high school myself, and now I enjoy coaching wrestling as an outlet away from the farm.”
Despite those difficult days, Leuer is satisfied with his decision to pursue his dream of dairying.                                   
“Dairy farming is the life I want to lead, and it is the best way to raise a family,” Leuer said. “I love the cattle, and it gives me purpose for every day. I love the challenges that come with dairy farming and all of the opportunities to explore different ideas in terms of management.”