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Valders — Wisconsin's cream of the crop is headed for nationals.

The 2016 Wisconsin Outstanding Young Farmer winners, Mark & Angie Ulness, Valders, have been named as one of the top 10 finalists for the National OYF Awards Congress, which will be held Feb. 9-12, 2017, in Greenville, SC.

The young Manitowoc County couple were honored with the state title on Jan. 23, 2016, during the 63rd Wisconsin OYF Awards Weekend. They were selected as one of the nation's top 25 couples and advance to the finals as one of the nation's top 10.

The spotlight is a tribute to years of hard and thoughtful work, service, accomplishments and positive energy.

"Mark and Angie are very outstanding farmers and advocates of farming," said Cindy Matton, WI OYF co-chair. "They are on the cutting edge and good at getting out into the community and sharing their stories. These guys make sure they are educating."

Dairy from the start

Mark and Angie's dairy, Ragnar Holsteins, began in 1977 when his parents, Wally and Ava Ulness, replaced their Guernseys with Holsteins and began to build a registered herd.

When Mark was 19, his father met an untimely death in a car accident. The family carried on as Mark finished college and continued to develop the registered herd.

Meanwhile, Angie was growing up with registered animals on Cycle Holsteins, a 120-cow dairy near Sturgeon Bay owned by her parents, Bill and Clarice Brey.

The two young dairy enthusiasts met at University of Wisconsin Madison. They graduated with dairy science degrees, married in 2002 and bought into Mark's home farm that same year.

Today, Mark and Angie have an energized life with four children; Clarissa, 11; Garrett, 10; Whitney, 8; Walker, 2, and a high-quality, productive farm that maintains a registered herd of 75 milking cows and 94 head of young stock.

The 243-acre farm is somewhat unique in the modern dairy industry, being one family on a smaller scale. "It's the right size for us. It keeps us busy and we enjoy what we do," Angie said. "We center God in our lives, but ultimately we try to raise our kids to be hard-working, honest and dream big."

While she and Mark relish the thought of their children loving and embracing farming as much as they do, they take it easy. "We try not to push our passion, but just let it develop, which is pretty natural when they're working right next to you," she observed.

Family matters

Family underpins their efforts. They have always worked closely with Mark's uncle, Loren Ulness, who farms just up the road toward town. He helped Ava and Mark keep the farm going after Wally's sudden death and maintains a easy business relationship with them, serving as their custom operator.

Mark and Angie put effort behind their belief in faith, family and industry. Besides working side by side on the dairy, they are active members of Faith Lutheran Church, Valders Youth Wrestling and Music Boosters, as well as multiple dairy and 4-H programs in the county, including Manitowoc Holstein Breeders and as Liberty Go-Getters 4-H Club dairy leaders.

Mark has served as a delegate for Foremost Farms and the National Holstein Association annual meeting, while Angie relishes her involvement with dairy judging and coaching.

In 2007, the dynamic duo received the Distinguished Young Holstein Breeder Award for the state of Wisconsin and, in 2008, were named the national winners. They have earned The Progressive Breeder Registry Award for 19 of 20 years.

Focus on quality cows

Their market nitch is balanced cows with the ability to produce a large volume of high component and low SCC milk while having elite conformation to aid in their longevity. They strive to breed animals are sound, trouble-free and fit into any type of dairy operations, as well as show-type heifers.

Mark and Angie invested in milking equipment with portable AIC automatic takeoffs, mobile and rich with readily accessible information including milk yield, flow and temperature, which helps with early indication of illness.

The Ulnesses work with a crop consultant, practice crop rotation and apply manure to their fields with a dragline for injection. In 2012, they built a two million gallon clay-lined manure pit, installed a system to capture manure runoff and added plastic tile to improve drainage.

The young dairy enthusiasts believe in using new ideas when finances allow and it works as a good investment strategy. They relish their participation in the dairy industry and look forward to its future.

Next up, an exciting, memorable trip to South Carolina in February.

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