The Wiste farm where the family milks 62 cows is located in Houston County north of Spring Grove, Minnesota. 
The Wiste farm where the family milks 62 cows is located in Houston County north of Spring Grove, Minnesota. PHOTO BY KRISTA KUZMA
 SPRING GROVE, Minn. – Values the Wiste and Rud families base their decisions on for their farm were learned from generations before them.
“Try to do what you can for yourself and fix what you can,” Dan Wiste said. “I learned most of my values from Depression-era guys, which I think has served me well through the ‘80s and when times were tough in dairy.”
It is still how the 62-cow dairy operates today, even as Dan and Cheryl Wiste work together with the upcoming generations – their daughter, Amanda Rud, along with her husband, Bjorn, and their children, Abby, 10, Kailey, 8, Jake, 6, and Emily, 4. The families were named this year’s Houston County Farm Family of the Year.
“It’s an honor,” Amanda said. “It was a surprise.”
Family is what makes farming so special for the Wistes and Ruds. It is also what drew Amanda back to the dairy after she graduated in 2009 from St. Mary’s University in Winona.
“I get to raise my kids around this environment,” she said. “I also get to learn what my dad has learned over the years.”  
Dan is used to having so many family members around. He grew up helping his parents and grandparents on the dairy, before joining the operation after graduating from high school in 1971. The Wistes built a new barn for their herd the year before.
“That fall, my dad started getting such bad arthritis in his hands,” Dan said. “I was going to go to (college at) either Calmar or Waseca. But then my dad asked me to stay here to milk for a year before going to college, which never happened.”
Instead, Dan started receiving 5% of the milk check right out of high school and gradually bought in from there.
“I just like being outside and being able to do so many different things,” Dan said about what he loves about farming. “I always liked the livestock part of it, and I’ve always liked milking cows.”
It is a chore he and Amanda do every day. The two of them work together to do the majority of the day-to-day chores; however, Bjorn pitches in when he is not working his off-farm job, and he and Amanda’s four kids like being on the farm, too. Cheryl assists when she is able and a lot of times has two grandkids, Cole, 3, and Gavin, 1, around. They are the children of another daughter and son-in-law, Rachel and Josh Mattson. Dan and Cheryl’s son, Jim, works off the farm.
“One night, Amanda and Cheryl were milking, and Amanda’s girls were sorting the switch cows. Everybody was here doing something,” Dan said. “I like that we get everyone involved.”
Using her business degree, Amanda also does all the bookwork for the farm.
Within the herd, the Wistes and Ruds focus on components rather than pounds of milk. Plus, they focus on good feet and legs, along with a large amount of body capacity.
“That’s where the milk comes from is the capacity,” Amanda said. “They don’t have to be so tall, but big framed. A big cow isn’t always tall.”
Dan agreed.
“We just want those good sound cows,” he said. “That’s the type of breeding we’ve looked for, for many years.”
The father-daughter duo said using the triple A mating program has been helpful for their breeding program.
“We’ve gotten a lot more uniform cattle and more aggressive calves because of it,” Amanda said.
As the main calf feeder, Amanda appreciates when calves are healthy, especially after enduring illness in the youngstock for several years after she joined the farm – something she considers one of the biggest challenges of her dairy farming career.
“We were losing so many calves to a respiratory disease,” she said. “I was fighting with it and fighting with it, and I didn’t know what to do. We tried so many shot protocols the vet kept giving us. We posted calves and it would all come back as mycoplasma. So, I ordered special mycoplasma vaccines. That didn’t take care of it, either.”
At one point, Amanda was losing about 12-15 calves per year.
“Now we’re switching 11 but there was awhile where we had 15 open stalls in the barn,” Amanda said. “We didn’t have heifers because we were losing them and getting a lot of bull calves besides.”
Dan read a story of a South Dakota dairy farmer with similar issues whose problems stemmed from bad water. So, Amanda and Dan looked into it, had their well tested and finally found their problem. High bacteria levels in the well were causing nitrate poisoning in the calves.
Until they were able to get a new well, Amanda brought water from neighboring farms to theirs and carried seven 5-gallon pails for mixing milk replacer for the calves twice a day. Since installing the well two years ago, they have only lost three calves and have increased milk production by 7 pounds of milk per cow per day.
“We didn’t know to check our water for years,” Dan said.
Amanda said the new well has saved them money on medication and vaccines, has increased production and their milk check, and gives them more live animals.
“That was the best $25,000 we spent,” she said. “We feed out all our steers too so that’s a huge amount of money we lost out on. Now we don’t have room for all our cattle.”
While milk price is always fluctuating, it has not been a major concern for the Wistes and Ruds because of their diversification. Along with milk, they also sell fat cattle, corn and soybeans.
“We usually have something to sell throughout the year,” Dan said. “In the ‘80s when things were bad, we also had a lot of pigs. We have never limited ourselves or relied on just one commodity for income.
It goes back to what they learned from generations before them – to use what they have and try to be self-sufficient.