Dairy Profile: DuWayne Badtke

DuWayne Badtke of Ripon, Wisconsin | Fond du Lac County | 80 cows

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How did you get into farming? I was born into it. This has been the home family farm since 1848. I am the sixth generation on this farm, and my son, Ethan, is the seventh generation. I worked for my dad after high school and went 50/50 with him on cows starting in 1997. I have been milking cows for 40 years and  bought the farm from my parents three years ago. My dad helps with fieldwork when we need him.

What are your thoughts and concerns about the dairy industry for the next year? I hear a lot of people say that milk prices are down, but in November, I was getting $19 per hundredweight, so I’m not complaining. The problem is a farmer can’t jump ship because nobody else will take your milk. The little guys are stuck where they are. Milk prices are not stressing me. I feel pretty optimistic going into 2024.

What is a recent change you made on your farm and the reason for it? In February 2020, we bought SCR collars for monitoring heat detection and health in our cows. It has been a great investment that we should have done sooner. We are able to get cows bred earlier and save more cows. Before the collars, we had a hard time catching them in heat, and we were having problems keeping cows around. We didn’t have enough to fill the barn. The collar tells us if something is off, and as a result, we are catching sick cows quicker as well, which has saved us money on vet bills. The collar tells me more than what I can visually see. We’re only culling now if a cow can’t get pregnant or to make room for better cows by culling lower-end animals.

Tell us about a skill you possess that makes dairy farming easier for you. We barely have any mastitis because I am diligent about making sure cows are milked out all the way. I try to solve mastitis problems on my own without the use of drugs. I don’t treat any cows for mastitis or give any vaccines for mastitis. All cows get a teat sealant which seems to make a difference in preventing bacteria from entering the udder. Cows with a high somatic cell count of over 100,000 receive Quartermaster. We also try to do our own repairs and mechanical work on the farm to save money. Ethan does welding for us.

What is the best decision you have made on your farm? Building a milking parlor in 2012 was one of the best decisions I have ever made on the farm. It has made milking much easier, especially handling first-time heifers. My wife wouldn’t milk in the stanchion barn, but she has learned how to milk in the parlor. The SCR collars were another great decision.

What are three things on the farm that you cannot live without? Our skid loader, milking parlor and SCR collars. The skid loader is handy, and we do a lot of things with it. We used to do a lot of shoveling and pitching, but we don’t do that much anymore. With the skid loader, we’re working smarter not harder, and we get done twice as fast. Instead of one little shovel full, we can fit hundreds in the skid loader bucket. The parlor reduces time spent milking, and it’s easier to hire someone if we need to take a day off. Last year, we took a week off as a family to attend a wedding in Montana. It would have been more work for someone if they had to milk in a stanchion barn. The SCR collars have allowed us to retain more cows, and they make breeding easier. The system sends us a text when a cow comes into heat. The breeder gets the same text, so we don’t even have to call him.

What strategies do you use to withstand the volatile milk prices? I don’t know what to say about that because it hasn’t been a problem for us. Pretty much everything is paid for on the farm, which helps a lot. I’m making farm payments, but we don’t have much debt and have no problem making ends meet. We’re not rich, but we’re making a go of it. Amy works off the farm for insurance reasons, and we also sell corn. We are not relying on milk. It helps to have diversity.

How do you maintain family relationships while also working together? There are struggles some days, and things aren’t always great, but for the most part, we work well together. We try to give each other time away from work and a day off if you need it. When unexpected things happen, we work through them together as a family.

What do you enjoy most about dairy farming? I love being my own boss and creating my own schedule. I can start when I want and finish when I want. I was born into farming, and it’s all I know. I don’t know what I would do if I didn’t have any cows.

What advice would you give other dairy farmers? Don’t overspend. Don’t buy something just because you think you need it. Prioritize, and keep debt low. When I was deciding between purchasing a milking parlor or a combine, we chose the parlor because it is something we use every day. We would only use a combine four to six weeks per year. Therefore, the parlor was a better investment for our farm at the time.

What are your plans for your dairy in the next year and five years? In the next year, we would like to achieve higher milk production and attain a stronger rolling herd average. We believe we can do this through better genetics and improvements in feeding. We switched milk replacers five years ago and are getting better calves. In the barnyard, we used to feed heifers ground corn with everything in it — the same as what the cows were eating. Heifers were getting fat and not breeding well. Now, we’re feeding protein and minerals, and our heifers are taller and growing better. Heifers are currently bred by a bull, but someday we would like to breed them via A.I. In the next five years, I would like Ethan to come into a leadership role and handle more of the chores so I can cut back.

How do you or your family like to spend time when you are not doing chores? I like to go bowling, and I am on a bowling league every Thursday. My wife and I like to play cards and have supper with friends. It’s also nice to go out to eat. I would like to try to get away a little more and do traveling. I like history and would like to see historical places out east.

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