A farm for a new generation

Wilterdinks begin renting family operation Jan. 1


SHEBOYGAN FALLS, Wis. — A new chapter has begun at the Wilterdink farm, and it is a moment that Eli Wilterdink has been working toward for a long time.

To achieve his goals, Eli’s ever-increasing responsibilities were paired with decision-making capabilities to bring him closer to one day running the farm. He bought cattle and equipment but also saved his money.

Partway through this process, he met his wife, Natalie, who shared his dream to farm. On Jan. 1, the couple began renting the farm from Eli’s dad, David, to set their dream in motion.

“We’ve been managing the farm for some time, but now it’s official,” Eli said. “The finances changed hands, but decision-wise, I’ve been making those for a long time with my dad and sister.”

Taking over the finances and management of the farm, Eli and Natalie rent the equipment, buildings and land. They farm with Eli’s sister, Aimee Moehring, who owns two-thirds of the herd but does not rent any portion of the farm. Eli and Natalie own the remainder of the herd. Their dad is on the farm full time but has let his children take control of day-to-day operations.

The family milks 85 cows and farms 250 acres near Sheboygan Falls. Cows are milked twice a day in a 37-stall stanchion barn and switched multiple times. The herd contains Holstein, Red and White Holstein, Jersey and Lineback breeds.

The Wilterdinks also raise beef crossbred cattle and sell beef to consumers. 

Eli is the third generation on the farm his grandpa bought in 1956.

“We saved up money for quite a while in order to start renting,” Eli said.

Eli and his dad have been buying equipment together since Eli was 18.

“I slowly accumulated equipment for the past 10 years, and that was part of the process to get to where we are now,” Eli said.

The Wilterdinks set up a limited liability company last summer in preparation and had conversations with an accountant.

“We saved up as much money as we could, but it took a lot more than we thought it would to start,” Eli said. “We don’t have any debt, and I’m glad we started out farming that way. Dad wanted to do this earlier versus some people who hold on for too long. He said whoever is doing the work should have the farm.”

Natalie started full time on the farm April 1, 2023. She can be found primarily in the barn.

“I’ve always worked with cows,” Natalie said.

Natalie has worked on various dairy farms. Previously, she spent seven years at Hickory Lawn Farm where she was a herdsman’s assistant. Here she met Eli, who volunteered to help with the farm’s robotic milking startup in 2019.

“Farming always found Natalie,” Eli said. “Then, she met a farmer.”

Natalie has milked in all kinds of setups and brings experience of various milking styles with her. Milking in a stanchion barn once again, Natalie has come full circle with milking methods.

“I’ve learned a lot here and have learned more about managing than just doing jobs,” Natalie said. “I’ve learned why we do things a certain way. For example, Aimee has been teaching me why and how we treat cows and what to watch for or different ways that a cow might show she is in heat. Communication is key, and Aimee answers any question I have.”

 Eli and Natalie are at the helm of a farm managed by a family with a give-and-take attitude that works together each day toward a similar set of goals.

“We have open communication here,” Eli said. “You have to be lenient with what everyone wants. Each person has to be happy with what you come up with.”

This will be the first year Eli is trying winter rye for forage.

“We’re changing up cropping a little and experimenting in that area,” he said. “I’ve been taking care of crops for about eight years.”

Eli’s freedom to make decisions helped make for a seamless transition.

“Dad let me make a lot of decisions beforehand, and that helped with the transition,” Eli said. “Aimee has been making all the decisions with the cows for 20 years. Dad allowed us to make decisions and mistakes, which was really important.”

Eli said their goal is to improve the land and the cows but not necessarily to grow in size.

Building a heifer barn and a milking parlor are ideas he is considering.

The Wilterdinks switched to a compost bedding pack in 2008, which Eli said was a benefit to cow comfort.

“It was a big improvement over the open cow yard we had before,” he said. “Cows last a lot longer than they used to. We have quite a few older cows in the herd, including one that is 13. Many make it past 8 years old.”

Having Natalie on the farm has been a help to the family, Eli said.

“We have more people on the farm now, and it’s given us more flexibility with our schedule,” he said. “With Natalie on the milking crew, it frees a lot of time.”

Eli said the schedule has also been positive for Natalie, who has epilepsy.

“She gets seizures, but a consistent sleep schedule and more time to relax has helped reduce those,” Eli said. “She doesn’t have to drive to work in the morning, which is better for her. This new arrangement is good for all of us.”

Eli and Natalie are enjoying the journey thus far and looking forward to what the future brings.

“We want to raise a family on the farm,” Eli said.

The young couple named the farm NEW Family Farm, an acronym for Natalie Eli Wilterdink.

“We plan to purchase the farm eventually, but there is no plan in place for that yet,” Eli said. “We’ve talked about doing some type of land contract, but we’re going to get through this first year first.”


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