WINSLOW, Ill. – After a childhood spent growing up working on beef farms in Ohio, Adam Lang knew he wanted to return to his roots, bringing life back to his grandparents’ vacant Illinois dairy farm.
The journey started in 2005 when Lang made the move northwest and began crop farming and raising beef on the old family farm.
“I always knew I wanted to milk cows eventually,” Lang said. “It was just something that seemed to be in my blood. I remember visiting my uncle who dairy farmed; he started here on my grandparents’ farm before moving to a farm up the road in the late 1970s. I always really looked up to him and enjoyed visiting.”
Lang is the fourth generation of his family to milk cows on that farm and is proud of the farm’s unique history within his family. His great-grandfather was an orphan, living on the streets of Pittsburgh. He was placed on an orphan train by a preacher and sent westward, ending up working for the childless couple who owned the farm. Eventually, he purchased the farm from the couple with the stipulation they would continue to live there.
In 2014, after nearly a 40-year absence, dairy cows finally made their long-awaited return to the barn. Lang milks 35 cows, mostly Holsteins with a variety of colored breeds mixed in. He also runs a small beef herd. Lang crop farms about 150 acres, all of which are used to raise feed for both the dairy and beef cows.
“I had a couple of milk checks that were for $28 milk,” Lang said of his entry into the dairy industry. “But the last six years pretty much took care of all of that.”
The barn was gutted as his uncle had used the property to raise hogs and store machinery. Lang brought new life to the structure, returning it to its usefulness as a dairy barn.
Once the barn was ready for cows, Lang learned the business of dairy farming. Without prior dairy experience, Lang found that every day was a learning day in the beginning.
“I knew how to milk cows, but at first I needed advice and help with just about every aspect of herd health,” Lang said. “I was fortunate to have good neighbors that helped as needed and taught me so much in those first months.”
Lang quickly learned what he could handle on his own and what types of instances might require a veterinarian. During that time period, Lang worked to cultivate a good working relationship with the local veterinary staff.
“I am fortunate to know that if I have an emergency, I know I have an on-call vet that will come,” Lang said. “Back in Ohio, at the beef farm I worked at, we didn’t have that luxury.”
That close working relationship paid off for Lang in 2019 when he faced his greatest challenge as a dairyman.
“Something awful went through the herd,” Lang said. “I lost 10 to 15 cows that year. My vets were completely perplexed; they couldn’t figure out what was wrong. We did bloodwork on the ones that were sick; necropsies on the ones that died and sent in samples. I tested all of my feed but found no issues or mycotoxins. We never did figure out the problem. It just eventually stopped.”
That year shook Lang’s confidence, but he persevered nevertheless.
“When you lose that many cows in a herd this size, that really devastates you,” Lang said. “I was down on cow numbers, but I just waited for the heifers to calve in to replace them. I didn’t want to risk bringing anything in to the herd after what had just gone on.”    
Lang said one of his greatest strengths is also one of his greatest weaknesses when it comes to caring for his herd.
“I have a tendency to not be willing to give up on an animal,” he said. “I think I can save everything. It makes me a good cowman but probably makes me a terrible businessman.”
Lang has made adjustments to his management practices to keep himself viable despite the low milk prices and other struggles he faced. Lang began his dairy career feeding his cows a total mixed ration but has since switched to component feeding.
“It is easier, feeding that way in my situation,” Lang said. “When milk was really low, I began to wonder how much fuel I was wasting.”
Lang uses a mix of artificial insemination and the use of a herd bull to breed his cows, and breeds his entire herd using dairy semen.
Lang prides himself on the longevity of his cows, noting that the average age of the herd is creeping up toward 10 years of age.
“I really like working with the animals and learning and watching all of their different personalities,” Lang said. “I love watching how they respond to the feed, and watching their offspring grow and become the next generation of milking cows in the herd is rewarding.”