The farm’s double-8 parallel milking parlor is located inside the original tiestall barn. It was built in 2008.
The farm’s double-8 parallel milking parlor is located inside the original tiestall barn. It was built in 2008. PHOTO BY STACEY SMART

    MOUNT CALVARY, Wis. – Joe Rieden has had a hand in running Rieden Dairy Farms ever since he was a young boy. Providing more than labor on the 60-cow dairy in Mount Calvary, Rieden took ownership of various aspects from the time he was just a lad. By age 7, he was tagging calves, and by age 14, he was mating and breeding the entire herd. Becoming a decision-maker long before most, Rieden relished his responsibilities. He took farming seriously from day one and was deeply committed to making it his life’s work.

    “I always wanted to farm,” Rieden said. “I never had a desire for anything else. Cows have been my passion from little on.”
    When Rieden was 12 years old, his parents, Jim and Pam, set him up with a checking account, and Rieden began buying his own cattle. By the time he graduated from high school in 2004, Rieden had 40 cows milking. His parents also had 40.
    “Ever since I was a kid, I got to treat the farm as my own,” Rieden said. “I had full control over mating and breeding from the time I was just a teenager after taking A.I. training. My dad probably kept an eye on me from the shadows, but he let me do my thing. Tagging calves was also a big deal for me. In fact, to this day I am still the only one who does it. I’m kind of obsessive about it. I want them done a certain way.”
    When Rieden finished school, he and his parents kept growing their herd within their existing facilities.  
    “While other farms were putting in parlors, we were remodeling our tiestall barn,” Rieden said. “But we had no interest in parlors at the time, so we put in 18 more tie stalls in (2004). At one point, we were milking 180 cows in 34 stalls.”
    The Riedens continued ramping up cow numbers, and in 2008, Rieden became partners with his dad, forming an LLC as his mom stepped out and started working off the farm so her son could step in. The farm saw a major expansion that year as the Riedens gutted a section of the original barn and put in a double-8 parallel parlor in addition to building a freestall barn. The Riedens were milking 270 cows when they transitioned to the parlor. The Riedens replaced tie stalls with free stalls in the original barn which is now used to house first-lactation animals.  
    “I loved milking cows,” Rieden said. “I never thought I’d be in a parlor. But we needed it because my dad and I both had bad knees. The parlor would also help us be more sustainable.”
    Today, the Riedens milk 600 Holsteins and Red and White Holsteins with a rolling herd average of 31,000 pounds of milk, 3.85% butterfat and 3.2% protein on three times per day milking while maintaining a somatic cell count of 100,000. The Riedens also farm 1,200 acres of corn, soybean, alfalfa and wheat.
    Heifers and dry cows are housed offsite which has allowed the Riedens to milk more cows.
    “You have to get creative to combat low milk prices,” Rieden said. “Our business model was always to milk 420 cows – that was our sweet spot – while selling 120 replacements each year. It was the greatest gig in the world until prices dropped off.”
    The farm always carried a surplus of heifers – three times the amount of cows.
    “Our goal was 400 cows and 1,200 heifers,” Rieden said. “But we stopped doing that a couple years ago. Instead, we increased cow numbers and grew internally.”
    The Rieden family has farmed at this location for 92 years – ever since Rieden’s great-grandpa started the farm in 1928. Rieden is a fourth-generation farmer who would love nothing more than to pass the farm onto his own children someday. He and his wife, Susan, who feeds calves and does the farm’s books, have three children – Otto, 5, Felix, 3, and Cora, 1.5. Susan comes from a 230-Jersey-cow farm in Fennimore.
    Rieden said he strives for a good balance between family and farm life.
    “We want our children to be passionate about the farm but want them to know there’s life outside of agriculture too,” Rieden said. “When you teach kids to be balanced, they see that you can do something like this. You can farm. It’s not an impossible dream.”
    Rieden still gets out to the parlor occasionally when time allows.
    “I like to pop in here and there and milk for a couple hours when I can,” he said.
    The Riedens added a second bulk tank and now have two 4,000-gallon tanks. They added an employee breakroom to help attract and retain high-quality workers.
    “We run pretty lean at 100 cows per employee,” Rieden said. “It’s all about efficiency and trying to get more done with less. We have to be efficient with our time. For example, we just bought a new cattle trailer that allows us to haul 16 cows instead of 10.”
    Rieden said, after going through their big expansion in 2008, they have taken progressive baby steps since and operate under a tight blueprint.
    “Every square inch of our farm is used or spoken for,” Rieden said. “We’re set up to go to 1,200 cows someday and have already marked out where the new parlor and second freestall barn will be located.”  
    Continuing to farm and doing so in a sustainable fashion are Rieden’s goals.
    “I don’t want to get bigger,” he said. “I didn’t even want to get to this size, but sometimes in order to do what you love, you have to do things you don’t love. Therefore, we are set up to double in size when the time is right.”