A firm foundation

Toay family upholds dairy tradition for more than a century


DODGEVILLE, Wis. — In the barn at the Toay family’s farm near Dodgeville, there are 74 clean tie stalls waiting for cows to come in for night chores. 

A few scattered kernels of corn remain in front of the stalls from the morning. The clean center walkway and the white walls and ceiling are indicative of the consistent daily care that is put into keeping the barn up to par. 

While certain upgrades have been made with the progressing times, such as the addition of Wi-Fi and a camera system, much of the original features of the barn are still in place. 

One such feature is the four tree trunks holding up the entire structure. The barn was built in 1916, and the trunks have provided a firm foundation for the family to continue to dairy there ever since. 

“Things are changing so much, but (we) utilize the land the way that it has been to try to keep carrying on that tradition,” Dan Toay said. “It can be a way of life, but it’s what you want to make of it.”

Dairying has always been Dan’s path. The farm began when 80 acres were homesteaded by Dan’s ancestors in 1857. The original barn held 30 cows, but additional stalls were added in 1994 when the herd was doubled. The family has milked around 85 cows there ever since. 

Dan and his wife, Lisa, bought the farm from Dan’s parents in 2004. Their youngest daughter, Paige, helps on the farm, and their nephew, Ryan, is their only full-time employee. Dan’s two brothers both work in construction off the farm, but they always help with fieldwork whenever they are needed.

It was important to Dan to continue dairy farming in part because he did not want to see the dairy disperse but also because his dad was so easy to work with, he said.

“He was open to new ideas all the time; he didn’t shoot me down or tell me I should’ve done it a different way,” Dan said. “We got along really well. It was really nice working with somebody like that.”

Lisa has been in charge of the accounting since before she even lived on the farm. She said the transition process when she and Dan took over was so simple because the family all wanted to see their parents’ wishes honored. Later when Dan’s father passed away in 2019, his mother exited the partnership so no loose ends would be left untied.

“All the siblings went and met with the accountant, and the paperwork amounted to one page,” Lisa said. “It was so nice. You don’t see that a lot.”

Dan agreed. 

“It was an easy transition between myself and the siblings,” Dan said. “It was simple.”

The farm has grown to 378 acres owned and 90 acres rented. Aside from pasture ground, their land base is mostly utilized for feed. One change that Dan has implemented since his time in charge is moving to custom harvest crews. 

“We’ve had to go more to the custom hiring and the rapid harvesting process just in order to make a better forage for our cows, with labor being another issue,” Dan said. “Doing the crops faster has been the best thing that’s allowed us to advance.”

Feed for the cows consists of corn silage and haylage stored in upright silos, and additional corn silage is stored in a bag. Cows are fed haylage and corn silage out of the silos by means of a single conveyor that both silos empty into simultaneously. In the barn, cows get high-moisture corn and high-moisture baleage. 

Ryan has been helping since he was 13 years old. When he graduated from high school two years ago, he decided to farm full time with Dan and Lisa. 

“He does everything; this kid is like a jack of all trades,” Lisa said. “He’s a great driver on every piece of equipment. We’re lucky that he wants to be here.”

Paige is in her final year of high school and plans to pursue an education in agribusiness after graduating. She helps take care of calves and heifers and is the relief milker if Ryan and Dan are unavailable. 

Dan said the farm has been a good way to teach the younger generation about the importance of a good work ethic among all the changes in life. 

“I tell them whether it’s me or somebody else you work for, you roll your sleeves up and you get to work,” Dan said. “You try. An effort is better than an excuse — and that’s true in everything.”


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