Dairy Profile: Ryan Richert

Ryan Richert of Lyndon Station, Wisconsin | Sauk County | 400 cows

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How did you get into farming? My dad milked cows near Reedsburg when I was growing up. He sold the farm when I was in high school. I started milking in a rented barn in 1996 with 12 cows. In 1997, I rented a second barn and milked in two barns. By then, I had 67 cows. In the spring of 1998, I bought the farm we have now. My dad helped a lot in the early years besides working other jobs. We put the parlor in the old tiestall barn in 2003. We had 135 cows then and have grown slowly to 400 today.

What are your thoughts and concerns about the dairy industry for the next year? Having companies available that we want to work with. I was 18 when I started farming, and there was a lot more proprietorship then. Now I wonder if the infrastructure and market will remain. The things we worry about we cannot control, like the milk price.

What is a recent change you made on your farm and the reason for it? We enrolled in the Cows First program at Scenic Central. We already followed most of the requirements anyway, so it was an easy transition. We did that to eliminate the chances of having to dump our milk and to secure our market. It pays a dollar per hundredweight premium, which was the icing on the cake. 

Tell us about a skill you possess that makes dairy farming easier for you. I have always really liked my cattle. I have always been around cows. Herd health requires minimal vet calls because I understand cattle and have good attention to detail. 

What is the best decision you have made on your farm? The location. We have good neighbors and have been able to rent and buy land. We are central to a lot of things. Moving here has allowed our farm to expand and us to do everything we have done. 

What are three things on the farm that you cannot live without? Hired help, which includes my dad, Rich. All of our kids helped when they were home, but now our youngest, Ross, is the last one home, and he helps a lot too. The companies we work with such as the nutritionist, the milk haulers, the veterinarians, etc. We have worked with a lot of folks for a long time, and we couldn’t do it without them. Finally, the support from my wife. She goes along with my crazy ideas and sometimes talks me out of them. We make a good team. 

What strategies do you use to withstand the volatile milk prices? We like the highs, and we hate the lows. We just ride the rollercoaster. Previously, we tried contracting milk and we have contracted fuel in the past, but we didn’t feel that it worked out to our advantage. It is more important to keep good relationships with the people we are working with. We tighten our belt and get by with the lows, and we don’t go wild when things are good. It took me years to get to the point where I didn’t owe money to anyone except the bank, and now we are careful to keep it that way. 

How do you retain a good working relationship with your employees? We have a combination of employees and family help. We have been lucky to have people work here for long periods of time. We offer flexibility in a job that is not normally flexible. We require two people to be here per milking, and there are five people who work that schedule out among themselves. They get paid per milking, and they show up.

What do you enjoy most about dairy farming? When you get a beautiful fresh cow and you go to see if it’s a bull or a heifer. That is my favorite thing. We have 13 breeds of cows here because when I started, I didn’t care about color, just that they were bred.

What advice would you give other dairy farmers? Do it the way you want to do it. Give it all you got. Mistakes are inevitable and you can learn from them. At the end of the day, the rolling herd average and days in milk don’t really matter. What matters is the number in your checkbook, and nobody puts that in the paper.

What are your plans for your dairy in the next year and five years? We are at a crossroads with a 20-year-old parlor and not all of our kids out of high school. We will continue as we are for the next year and reevaluate in five years.

How do you or your family like to spend time when you are not doing chores? We are involved in rodeo. I did rodeo in middle and high school. I took 18 years off until my daughter took an interest in it, and I got sucked right back into it. There are times during the summer where we will attend a rodeo every night from Wednesday through Sunday. There have been times on a Wednesday that we drive to Nebraska for a rodeo and get back in time for morning chores on Thursday. My wife does a lot of driving or covering chores to make it happen. We have been gone more than a lot of farmers, but that time with your kids you never get back. It’s a family sport. The people we have met are like family. All of our kids enjoy it. Ross is in high school rodeo. Rachel attends University of Wisconsin-Whitewater. Rayha attends South Dakota State University on a rodeo scholarship. 

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