Handing down a herd of excellence

Vandertie to take over farm, continue breeding for superior genetics

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BRUSSELS, Wis. — On Jan. 1, 2025, Austin Vandertie will become the owner of Doorco Farms. Taking over the farm where he grew up, Austin looks forward to carrying on his family’s legacy of breeding registered Holsteins.

“I’ve known for quite a while that I wanted to come back to the farm, but college confirmed it,” Austin said.

Austin graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison with a degree in dairy science and a certificate in business management. He now farms full time with his parents, Dan and Julie. The Vanderties milk 40 cows and farm 400 acres near Brussels.

“There aren’t many guys getting into farming, and very few are taking over a herd of this quality,” Dan said.

As the third generation steps into ownership, Austin is following in the genetic footsteps of his father and grandfather.

The Vanderties are known for breeding generations of high-scoring, high-producing cows, which has earned the family a Progressive Breeders’ Registry award from the Holstein Association USA for 49 consecutive years.

“This farm is a testament to what my parents and grandparents did,” Austin said. “What I do will be determined 20 years from now.”

The Vanderties have also received the Holstein Association USA’s Herd of Excellence Award six times.

When they received the award in 2022, their average classification score was 88.7 with 36,491 pounds of mature equivalent milk, 1,425 pounds of butterfat and 1,117 pounds of protein on twice-a-day milking.

Dan and Julie bought the farm in 1987 from Dan’s parents. Many animals trace back to the first two registered heifers Dan’s dad purchased in the early 1940s. Like his father, Dan made smart breeding decisions. The homebred herd has a BAA of 112.

“We haven’t brought an outside cow into the herd in 35-40 years,” Dan said.

Tall, wide and strong describe the Holsteins that fill their barn that includes 17 Excellent cows. In the last six years, the Vanderties have had five cows score 94 points.

“Our next goal is to get a cow to 95 points,” Austin said. “I don’t think Door County has had one yet, and we’re hoping to be the first.”

Focused on type, production and longevity, the Vanderties look at linear traits and cow families when choosing bulls. 

Dan said they like to see a stack of Gold Medal Dams behind the sires they choose. Dams and sires backing a bull must also have a classification score.

“We breed for strength,” Dan said. “A big, strong cow with a wide chest is what we strive for. We like them wide from the muzzle to the back end. Then, you know she can milk. That’s how you make money.”

Cows at Doorco Farms average 108 pounds of milk per day and 7.5-8 pounds of combined fat and protein. Cows peak at 170 pounds of milk and 12 pounds of combined fat and protein. To attain this level of production, the Vanderties place precedence on everything from feed to cow comfort.

“The cows always have feed in front of them,” Dan said. “We push up feed every couple hours. We top-dress the mix, too, and give extra corn to top-producing cows. We feed (a total mixed ration) in the outside bunk as well. Clean water, good bedding and good ventilation are also important.”

Every member of the Vandertie family has an eye for the details, ensuring cows reach their potential.

“It’s not just the big things that make a difference,” Julie said. “It’s the little things too.” 

Dan agreed.

“We always challenge the cows,” he said. “From cow comfort to feed to genetics, we do the right things to get milk. Genetics is a big part of that.”

For the last three years, Austin has selected bulls, and Dan and Julie said they can already see the results of his breeding decisions.

“My dad was probably better at it than I was, and Austin does a better job than I ever did,” Dan said. “Austin has raised our herd average by 3,000-4,000 pounds through ideas he implemented that he brought back from school.”

Austin is making his mark on the farm and has made changes in the areas of reproduction and conservation.

For example, he implemented ovsynch protocols to get cows bred back on time, and for the last few years, he has integrated cover crops and strip-tilling.

“Over 75% of our land is green year-round,” Austin said.

The Vanderties continue to make improvements and are building a heifer barn and manure storage this year. Austin sees a robotic milking system as an option.

“I’ve done a lot of research into robots and visited a lot of farms,” Austin said.

The Vanderties are entering the next phase of their succession plan, which has been in the works for several years.

“Sometimes, farmers are concerned about treating all their kids the same when it comes to a succession plan,” Dan said. “Austin has two older sisters, and I told my kids long ago we are not going to split this farm up. I’ve worked too hard to put this together. Whoever takes over the farm gets the biggest piece of the pie.”

When starting out, the Vanderties gathered ideas from other farmers who had been through a transition. They then put a team of experts together, and Austin is in the process of applying for a Farm Service Agency loan.

“We have four people working on this transition for us,” Dan said. “It might cost more, but I can expect it to be good. I can sleep at night.”

Making it economically possible for Austin to take over is important to his parents.

“We’re willing to help him out and willing to make a sacrifice as long as we can be comfortable financially,” Dan said. “I would rather see the farm carry on to the next generation. I’ve always kept my debt to a minimum; therefore, Austin is not taking over a lot of debt.”

Doorco Farms is at the cusp of a new owner, and Dan and Julie are confident the farm will be in good hands as they prepare to pass it on to their son.

“Next year, it will be official,” Dan said. “The farm is going in Austin’s name, and I want to give him free rein.”

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