Madlands are dairy success story
Troy and Sandy Madland of Lyndon Station began dairy farming with no family connections or support but a strong desire to get into dairying. They have been on their Lyndell Dairy since 1994 and boast an impressive herd average, a growing portion of their herd that is registered Holstein, a strong business ethic and an enthusiasm that continues for dairy farming.
(Photo by Jan Shepel)
Desire to farm propelled couple into dairy operation
A shared loved of farming and a determination to make that their way of life has taken Troy and Sandy Madland on a successful adventure and through a number of growing pains for their dairy business.
Troy grew up in Baraboo and was so determined to be a farmer that he began buying his own beef cattle and renting farmland by the age of 16. He went to a year of college at the University of Wisconsin’s Baraboo campus and then transferred to the UW-Platteville to study agriculture in earnest.
(Those cattle he fattened as a teenager helped pave his way through college.)
At Platteville, he honed his skills working at various jobs and internships. He especially noted the time he spent working at the dairy farm of Bob and Donna Perrell, where he worked with cattle, machinery and fieldwork.
“I was pretty determined to farm. I like cows,” he says with a smile.
While in Platteville, he also met Sandy, a West Allis native, who became his wife and joined in on his dream of dairy farming.
They started working on that dream in 1991 when they rented a stanchion barn and borrowed money to buy cows. After being on several rented facilities, they found the place they now call home — Lyndell Dairy — in the southern tip of Juneau County.
They rented it for a year or two and were convinced it was the place they wanted to put down roots — it had a parlor and a freestall barn and the opportunity for their dairy to grow, recalls Sandy.
They had been open to going just about anywhere in Wisconsin and had already looked at farms in Sauk and Vernon counties when their Foremost Farms field man put them in touch with the then-owner of this farm, Pat Mitchell.
They bought feed from Mitchell and rented the operation and credit him with helping them get their operation rolling on his old place. When they bought the 160-acre home farm, Mitchell was cash renting other nearby land and allowed them to take that over so they would have enough feed for their growing cattle herd.
Today, in addition to their high-producing dairy herd, the family also rents and crops 1,600 acres of cropland in the Wisconsin Dells area. They have 20 landlords to reach that total, she said.
Many of the fields they rent are too small for the large equipment run by bigger cash grain farmers, and they have enjoyed getting to know the many people they deal with.
Some of their work land is in the midst of the touristy Dells development area. They grow crops next to the Tanger Outlet mall, across from Trappers Turn golf course and near Christmas Mountain.
“Our land stretches for 14 miles from one end to the other and its gets to be a project when we have to move machinery,” says Sandy.
Because of their proximity to many tourist attractions they manage their manure applications accordingly. “We’re right next to a big campground so we didn’t go over there with manure on Memorial Day weekend,” she smiles.
MACHINERY GROWS WITH LAND
“When we got started we didn’t have much machinery, but we added to it as we needed,” says Sandy.
“Machinery isn’t my first love,” says Troy, “but when we grew the herd we needed to crop more acres, so that’s what we did.”
Thanks to a dedicated corps of hired workers, the Madlands have been able to do nearly everything on the farms themselves — from hauling manure and spraying to splitting tractors that need repairs.
Troy is general manager of the operation and takes charge of the machinery and cropping enterprises.
Sandy does the farm’s books, does payroll, feeds calves and manages the cow side, with the help of an assistant herdsman. (He and his brother have been with the farm for 10 years.)
They have made lots of changes since first coming to the farm. They tore down some old buildings and worked with a stationary TMR mixer and upright silos for a few years before replacing those systems with bunkers and a TMR wagon.
They added a new freestall barn for the milking cattle in 2006 and added several small herds of purchased dairy cows and two-year-olds to build numbers. At that time they opted to use the older freestall barn for the dry cows. But that’s something that’s going to change this summer.
“We give the cows a vacation but we’ve been putting them up in a cheap hotel,” quips Troy of the outdated freestall barn that is equipped with mattresses. They are planning to build a new dry cow barn this summer featuring deep sand bedding, along with a commodity shed.
The dry cow barn is their weak link right now, says Sandy, so that’s where they are making a change.
Though their double-7 herringbone parlor is running nearly 24 hours a day to get their cows milked on a three-times-a-day milking schedule, they haven’t yet decided to build a new parlor.
“We are at full capacity with 340 cows in this parlor running it continuously except for cleaning,” says Sandy. “That will be our next weakest link.”
Right now the cows walk outdoors from the new freestall barn to the parlor, but that may change at some point in the future. When they built that new barn they left room in front of it to build a future parlor that would allow them to expand their herd even further.
Today they keep their herd in the 330 to 400-head range because of the parlor capacity, says Sandy. Because all three of their children have been enthusiastic about showing cattle, one-third of their Holsteins are registered.
“When the kids were in 4-H we started buying some registered animals and we have kept that going,” says Sandy.
Their interest in the registered Holstein business earned them a Young Adult Educational scholarship to attend the Wisconsin Holstein Association Convention this past February in Waupaca.
The Madlands have kept on schedule religiously meeting with their lender and business consultant each and every month — whether they think they need to or not.
They use these meetings to anticipate capital and machinery needs. “That way nobody gets any big surprises. It really helped us through 2009,” says Troy.
Most dairy producers remember that year with disappointment for the shockingly low prices received for milk along with devastating erosion of farm equity on many operations.
For the Madlands, that year was even worse as their herd got hit with stray voltage at the end of that year. As milk prices started to improve, their cows began dying as they gave birth, along with most of their calves.
“We just couldn’t calve any cows in. The metabolic stress was just too much,” he recalled.
At first they questioned everything they were doing from feed and management when their nutritionist suggested they get a stray voltage evaluation. When their electric co-op checked they found 6 volts of stray voltage coming to the dry cow barn.
Within 48 hours their farm was isolated and things began to improve. Their new barn for the lactating cows and the parlor were not as affected by the power spikes because they have different power service, says Troy.
Still the family lost a lot of cows, eventually adding up the losses at $250,000.
Mark Cook from the Public Service Commission (PSC) and veterinarians from the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection were helpful, he says, and the co-op put an all new line and service into the farm with a few months and cleared up the problem.
A true cow man, Troy remembers that brief period with pain. “It was awful. You spent so much time doctoring cows and pumping cows and you’d still lose them.”
Their per-cow production dropped from 85 pounds per day to 72 because they didn’t have any fresh cattle coming into the herd — they were nearly all dying.
“I’m so thankful the problem was fixed in a timely fashion,” says Troy. “It wouldn’t have taken very long and it would ruin you.”
Today, the Lyndell herd had a rolling average of 30,000 with over 1,000 pounds of fat, he said. Their heifers coming into the herd in have a mature equivalent (ME) of 31,594 pounds of milk. “We are doing well consistently on three times a day in the 90 pound range.”
That was his goal as he pursued a dream of dairy farming — to get a lot of milk out of his cows. To that end they have used a mating service from ABS throughout their career. “Every year our cattle have gotten better,” he says.
They have begun doing some advanced reproduction on their herd and in addition to flushing cows they recently did their first IVF flush.
Their heifers are raised by several neighbors who each put up new facilities to house the Madland cattle in open-fronted sheds with headlocks.
In a separate barn in their neighborhood, the Madlands raise 75 head of Holstein steers, mainly because Troy likes to do it. He and Sandy feed calves in the morning — she does the heifer calves in their new calf barn and he does the bull calves in the hutches using waste milk from their cows.
“Nothing is one-size-fits-all around here,” says Troy with a grin, but they are making it work.
He marvels a bit at the road they have taken in dairy farming. “I never thought I’d be milking this many cows. I wanted to milk 50 cows because I liked milking cows. But as the industry changed I guess so did we.”
For their first few years in farming the couple had to be “super self-reliant” recalls Sandy, but they had great advice from lots of sources that helped them along the way and some more great advice is coming from the next well-educated generation.
Their kids are hoping to carry on the family’s legacy of dairy success. Son Garrett, 20, is a student at UW-Platteville where he is majoring in dairy science. Theresa, 18, just graduated from Wisconsin Dells High School and will be attending UW-Platteville in the fall and also planning to major in animal science/dairy science. The youngest Madland is Johanna, 15.
Garrett loves working with cattle like his parents and has expressed interest in becoming part of the family farm when he’s done with school. His greatest interest lies with the cattle and he’s hoping to develop some outstanding cow families.
FARM TOUR REQUESTS
Many of their neighbors in the township are people who own weekend homes and many of them have just popped in to ask if they could have a look around the dairy farm. Some tours are more organized.
Sandy often hosts tours through the calf barn of local school groups or other Wisconsin Dells groups that want to see how a dairy farm works.