A day in the life of the McManama family

May 1 marks first day of fieldwork

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WATERTOWN, Wis. — The sun was shining, and the wind was blowing when James McManama took to the fields May 1 for the first time this year.

Planting corn was the goal for McManama and his daughter, Rachel Schroeder. The pair milks 90 cows and farms 500 acres at Simply Crazy Farms near Watertown.

“We enjoy working together,” Schroeder said. “My dad is my best friend.”

The days get long for this father-daughter team, and May 1 was no exception. Work did not wrap up until about 9 p.m. for Schroeder and an hour later for McManama.

Schroeder does most of the milking and started at 6:30 a.m. while her dad mixed feed and fed the cows and heifers. Cows are milked in 17 stalls of the stanchion barn and housed in a freestall barn. Schroeder milks with eight units and said milking takes about two hours.

Schroeder is the third generation on the farm started by her grandpa in 1953. A mother of two, her 7-year-old daughter, Remington, and 4-year-old son, Colton, love being at the farm. Schroeder’s husband, Jesse, is a diesel technician and handy at fixing farm equipment. Her mom, Sandy, works part time and also watches the grandchildren. A few part-time employees help with relief milking.

Schroeder has farmed with her dad for 12 years and been an owner of the farm for 10.

“It has taken us nine or 10 years to get the quality we were after,” Schroeder said. “It’s quality we thought we were never going to see. Our average somatic cell count is 50,000. Maybe once a year I treat a cow for mastitis.”

A healthy herd and attention to detail are key contributors to this success.

“A lot has to do with genetics,” Schroeder said. “We breed for the health of the animal and components.”

Schroeder said they recently hit 100 pounds of milk per cow per day.

“It wasn’t even a goal of ours, so to see that is phenomenal,” she said. “We’re so thankful and blessed. I don’t like to push my cows too much. We have one group in the freestall barn, and everyone gets the same feed.”

Schroeder fed calves at 9 a.m. and then limed the stalls in the barn. When McManama returned from feeding heifers, he and Schroeder mixed another batch of feed to get a head start on evening chores. 

At 9:40 a.m., Schroeder cleaned the dry cow yard.

McManama hooked up the cultivator around 9:45 a.m., and at 10:30 a.m., he and his daughter filled the corn planter with seed.

“This is where it all starts,” McManama said. “We put the seed in the ground, but it’s up to the good Lord to give us the crops.”

McManama and Schroeder plant 220-240 acres of corn. They plant Brevant seed for corn silage. 

“This seed has a stronger stalk quality,” McManama said. “If we don’t need it for silage, we can leave it for high-moisture or dry corn.”

McManama has switched from planting with dry fertilizer to planting with liquid fertilizer.

“Dry fertilizer is more labor intense,” he said. “With the pop-up fertilizer in the front of the tractor, I can apply a first-pass herbicide in the furrow, and it removes one step in growing the crop. It also gives a stronger start to the plant.”

McManama and Schroeder grow 100-110 acres of alfalfa which they put up as baleage. 

About five years ago, they decided to bring hay harvesting back in-house and purchased a vertical mixer and hay equipment.

“There is pride in making your own feed, and we’ve been so happy with the quality we’re getting,” Schroeder said. “Making round bales is probably one of my favorite jobs.”

They continue to use Ledgeview Custom Services to harvest silage.

“They are great to work with,” Schroeder said. “They put up our corn silage in about 8-10 hours.”

The farm also grows 150 acres of soybeans.

“We always grew beans for a cash crop, but last year, we began feeding it as well,” Schroeder said. “Our nutritionist suggested adding it into our ration as protein versus selling it at a loss and buying it back.”

As her dad took a first pass over the field with the cultivator at 10:45 a.m., Schroeder commented on the field’s condition.

“I’m very happy with how the seed bed looks,” she said. “It’s nice and flat. There are no big dirt balls. We’ll get really good seed depth.”

Schroeder took over cultivating for her dad around 11 a.m., while McManama went back to the farm to prep the planter. He began planting corn around 1 p.m. and planted 50 acres of corn that first day in the fields.

One of Schroeder’s newest employees milked on her own for the first time that night so that Schroeder could remain in the field. She finished cultivating at 8 p.m. Once she got back to the farm, Schroeder fed calves. Her husband was there to help finish milking. Then, Schroeder and her husband went to the heifer farm to breed a heifer before heading home.

“We run some late nights when trying to get corn planted, but I’m super happy with the progress we made,” Schroeder said.

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