In the shadow of a new 236-x-116-foot Amish-construction barn-building site, the Loehr Dairy LLC brothers Dan, Joe and Mark Loehr are planning to add 60 cows to their 450-head herd.
The breeding of the Loehrs' herd recently won middle brother Joe Loehr recognition as the National Distinguished Young Holstein Breeder and Outstanding Young Brown Swiss Breeder at the two breeds' national conventions earlier this year.
Joe and his family live on the same farm he and his brothers grew up on, and many members of the family, including their father, Norman Loehr, help out alongside eight full-time employees, milking the herd three times per day.
Currently, Joe said, the family milks about 450 cows: 250 Holstein, 35 Brown Swiss, and the balance are a cross of the two breeds. Joe added that the crossbreds "are not our genetically elite cows, but are very competitive productively."
Culling turns over about 30 percent of the herd each year. Joe makes the mating decisions and does most of the inseminating with a variety of semen kept on hand. Dan and one of the employees also help with the artificial insemination work.
The brothers have experimented with Jersey and Normandy crosses but moved away from them to stay with the higher milk production from Holstein and Swiss genetics.
"It was a surprise," Joe said of the awards. Both came through an application process open to breeders 40 years of age and younger. Since Joe is in his last year of eligibility, he decided to apply. Both were first-time efforts.
He said the application forms ask about the history and progress of the farm — now in its fourth generation of family ownership after being named a Wisconsin Century Farm in 1980 — and also about management practices and future goals.
"We saw significant accomplishment in the last two to three years," he said. "In the 22 years I've been managing, the dairy has improved 10,000 pounds of milk per cow, from 17,000 to 27,000. To do that we improved facilities, feed quality and the care we give to the herd. Also, the genetic improvement has been substantial. We've been able in the last two years to have a Holstein bull and heifer reach the Top 20 in the world in genetic total performance index," a measure that takes in type, potential production and longevity.
Several Brown Swiss also have achieved that level.
"The opportunity to be able to do DNA testing began in 2009, and I jumped in head first," Joe continued, "and it's been very beneficial in terms of genetic progress. We look for a strong emphasis on component percentages in milk, especially percentage of protein. We really want a well-balanced cow, not too big, not too small; easy to take care of, healthy, easy to impregnate and with excellent longevity."
The brothers are proud enough of their cattle to enter two young Brown Swiss heifers in this year's World Dairy Expo competition in Madison in October.
Farming on the edge of Fond du Lac County's Holyland, the Loehrs use "Holyland" as the prefix for naming their registered animals in both breeds. Joe said they began using the prefix with their Swiss cattle but had to wait to secure it for Holsteins until it became inactive with the former breeder who had rights to the name.
Joe and his wife, Gina, live on the farm with their five children and another on the way. Dan and his wife, Grace, live outside of Fond du Lac with two children. Mark and his wife, Tina, have one daughter.
The brothers are all graduates of Campbellsport High School. Dan, the oldest, attended the University of Wisconsin Farm and Industry Short Course; Mark went through four years of college; Joe went into full-time farming right out of high school. Together they farm 800 acres, including 650 in family ownership, planted to corn, alfalfa, soybeans and wheat.
"We try to do at least 300 acres of winter rye as a cover crop and a spring forage," Joe said.
Eventually he would like to see something growing on all the land all year-round as cover crops. Alfalfa and corn are harvested into bunker silos. Some soybeans and wheat are sold for grain while corn for grain is purchased. The cattle are fed a TMR or total mixed ration. In the new barn addition, dry cows will be housed on a combination of sand-bedded free stalls and composted sawdust packs over an earth base. The barn has a gravity flow manure handling system.
Cows are milked in a swing-12 parlor and currently have a 4 percent butterfat and 3.35 percent protein test and a somatic cell count of 119.
After cows are added to the expanded barn, there are no more plans to increase the herd size, Joe said.
"We'd like to improve what we do in each aspect of the business, whether it's more crop yield, more efficient production and increasing the pounds of milk sold," said Joe, who sells his milk to Baker Cheese.