Dairy Profile

Tim and Joe Spoke of Twin Valley Dairy | Waterloo, Wisconsin | Jefferson County | 64 cows

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How did you get into farming? Joe: I grew up on a dairy farm in Waukesha County but didn’t feel there was a future there because of urban sprawl, so I bought this farm in 1977. Tim: I used to build homes, but I decided to come back to the farm in 2016.

What are some of the most significant ways your farm has changed since you started farming? Joe: The farm has changed significantly since I purchased it. It was run-down, and I made a lot of changes to get it to where it is today. First, I built a new house. I then began remodeling the barn. I tore out everything in the barn and did an addition in 1977. In 1980, I added onto the barn again and also made it 4 feet wider. I was milking 34 cows to start, and after the addition in 1980, I went to 64 cows. Our registered herd is comprised mostly of Jerseys. We also have Guernseys and Holsteins. We built a heifer barn three years ago and a calf barn a couple years ago. We have also built sheds and a shop and added silos. I started with 123 tillable acres, and now we have 283. We tiled a lot of our land. The soil conservation department helped us completely redesign the farm, adding contours and waterways, etc. It’s good land, and I’ve been working on building it up since 1977. The only thing that is the same from the original farm is the hay barn and one silo. Everything else has been updated or is new.

What was a challenge you faced in your dairy farming career, and how did you overcome it? Joe: Money has always been a challenge because of milk prices. Right now, prices are terrible. Supplies are available, but with the higher interest rates, it’s going to be a fairly flat year. Beef prices are up but so is the price to buy a calf. It was challenging to start here, but I had three properties in Waukesha that I was able to sell to start this; that was the secret to my success.

What is the best decision you have made on your farm? Joe: We have a dairy and beef operation. We raise 120 Angus-Holstein crossbred steers. Tim owns the beef cattle; I own the dairy cattle. Being diversified like this is the best decision we have made, so we do not have to rely solely on the milk check. Tim: Getting the farm set up so it produces and gives us good yields is another good decision we have made. We don’t cut corners. We buy the fertilizer or nutrition the land needs to make it produce, and the tile helps in a wet year.

What are three things on the farm that you cannot live without? Tim: Our manure spreader, the skid loader and a group of adult friends we can rely on to help us with crops and other work. Having this skilled help when you have a bad day or need to get the crops out is so important. We use the skid loader for everything from feeding to cleaning. We spread manure every day and couldn’t get by without our spreader. Joe: The Gator also helps us transfer things and helps me with getting around the farm.

What are your thoughts and concerns about the dairy industry for the next year? Joe: I don’t know for sure. I read an awful lot, and they say things might get better. There is a shortage of heifers, and the U.S. was starting to rely on exports, but that’s gone down. If exports go up, we’ll be fine. I hope that happens.

What strategies do you use to withstand the volatile milk prices? Joe: We try to stay diversified with milk, steers and cash crops. It was a bad year when we got dropped by Grassland Dairy in 2018. We were happy to have the beef backing us up at that time. Tim: We also shop around more than we used to for feed and other inputs. We stuck with one feed company for many years, but now we look at other sources. To get the best deal, we do not feel the need to be loyal to one company. Another example is fuel. Now, we buy the amount of fuel we need versus filling the tank. We’re watching all the little things to get the best price. Everything seems tighter, so we’re looking for other ways to watch our dollar closer. We have also been updating our equipment and replacing older models with newer ones. I also do most of the fixing of our equipment. The hourly rate to fix a tractor or a silo is much higher than 10-20 years ago.

How do you retain a good working relationship with your employees? Tim: We have a lot of high school help, and it takes effort to get them trained. We are a small operation, and they are expected to know about all the areas of the farm, so we work closely with them. For example, when they are trained on milking, they have to know all the cows, including who is dry and treated. I provide mentorship to the kids, and they assist us. A lot of kids don’t like working at fast-food restaurants, and they drive in and ask us for a job. We also work with students who have special needs. This is a place where we can make something work for them. Joe: We’ve done the youth apprenticeship program through the high school for 20 years. We’ve had 50 kids here through that program. We have also hosted foreign exchange students. As for Tim and I, we each have our own roles. Tim does the fixing and building, maintenance, feeding and keeps the farm going. I know my cows and specialize in that area, overseeing everything.

What do you find most rewarding about dairy farming? Joe: It’s my operation, and I like owning it and running it. That gives me a lot of pleasure. I like to see the improvements we have made; it’s gratifying. Tim: It’s a great feeling to see our accomplishments on a daily basis. I’m especially happy when everything works right and gets done on time. Those are good days on the farm.

Tell us something special about your farm. Joe: I like the farm layout. In the summertime, it looks beautiful. We have nice crops, and it gives me pleasure to drive from one end of the farm to the other.

What are your plans for your dairy in the next year and five years? Joe: I am going to be 81 this year. I help manage the farm but don’t do much of the physical labor anymore. We plan to keep going with things the way they are until things change. We are landlocked and cannot spread out anymore. If some land came up for sale, we wouldn’t be afraid to buy it. For now, we plan to work with what we have for both dairy and beef. Tim: We have a total of 250 animals on the farm between beef and dairy, so we are maxed out. There is competition around us for land with no opportunities to rent.

How do you or your family like to spend time when you are not doing chores? Joe: I like to do landscaping. I also like to tend to my chickens. It’s a small hobby of mine, and I have 42 chickens. There is also a fruit orchard in their pen that provides all kinds of fruit. Tim: I enjoy going for bike rides with my wife on the trails in Madison. I also spend time researching ways to fix things on the farm. I try to get away for a week vacation to visit my mom in Arizona.

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