Marathon County couple OYF winners

Wisconsin State Farmer
Sam and Jenn Zimmerman were named WIsconsin Outstanding Young Farmers

Baraboo — A couple from Marathon County with deep farming roots has been named Wisconsin's Outstanding Young Farmer during the OYF 64th annual Awards Weekend at the Glacier Rock Convention Center in Baraboo.

Sam and Jennifer "Jenn" Zimmermann of Ringle operate ON-Q Holsteins which consists of 165 milking cows and 180 Holstein heifers and run 450 acres of which 300 are tillable.

Innovative practices such as the use of genetic testing, embryo transfer, in-vitro fertilization and the use of sexed semen, has allowed them to isolate the “elites” in their herd and grow the genetics very quickly. This has produced cows scoring excellent including a recent Dam of Merit. The Zimmermans have also achieved a 2016 progressive genetics award winner from the Holstein Association, a red winter calf placing in the Top 10 at World Dairy Expo, and five embryos being exported to France.

.The Zimmerman's each have a farming background. Sam's home farm housed 50 registered Holsteins until a fire destroyed the milking barn in July of 1997 just before he was to leave for college at UW-River Falls. His father would continue farming custom raising heifers for the next 10 years.

In the fall of 2009 Sam's father began experiencing kidney failure due to PKD. At this time Sam and Jenn decided to take over the reins of the family farm. In creating the next generation family owned farm, they wanted to create an enterprise that would help sustain Sam's parents' journey into retirement, as well as provide a lifestyle that they wanted for their family.

Although they were both raised on dairy farms it would take some convincing of Jenn by Sam that they should start milking cows. Seven years later, having 165 milking cows and 180 Holstein heifers, they are still happily married with four children, Mason, 13, Adelle, 12, Neah, 9 and Garrison, 4.

Beginning in the fall of 2009, the couple converted an existing building to accommodate a UW Extension designed, low-cost swing 12 milking parlor and the existing bedded pack barns (originally designed for raising heifers) were used to house the milking herd. The first 51 cows were purchased and milked in the new parlor on April 22, 2010. By the end of the year the herd would double.

"Having cows back on the farm after 12 years was exciting for everyone," the couple said.

Despite obstacles, Sam and Jenn have learned to be prepared by staying open-minded, keep learning, maintaining great relationships, trusting in God, and always remaining humble. The low milk prices of 2016 provided a financial challenge. However, with some management adjustments ahead of time and good planning, the business remains in a good position.

Other challenges the couple has faced include employee turnover, the continued health struggles of Sam's father (three kidney transplants and countless stays at UW-Madison) and managing the stress of family time. To help meet those challenges, a farm manager has been hired to assist with running of the farm; training protocols, and scheduling have been implemented for employees and a balance between hard work and family time has been struck in order to provide quality time for the children.

To make the operation successful, Sam has utilized genetic testing, embryo transfer, in-vitro fertilization, and sexed semen. To supplement the genetics of the initial herd of 50 cows, additional purchases of high quality registered Holsteins have allowed the Zimmermans to chalk up a few achievements.

Custom cropping is used to reduce overhead and utilize advanced cropping practices. Partnerships have also been formed in other areas.

The Zimmermans are committed to good conservation practices in order to make their farm sustainable for the generations to come. A stream runs through the middle of their property, so a riparian buffer was developed. In addition, a host of trees have been planted over the years.

Contour strips and crop rotation is used to prevent soil erosion. the Zimmermans practice rotational grazing on 150 acres of pastureland on both sides of the creek has had a positive impact in protecting the water, which benefits both cow and environmental health.

In 2012 a 1.5-million-gallon capacity manure pit was constructed to contain manure and feedlot runoff. Nutrients on the farm are managed with a nutrient management plan and the use of cover crops.

In addition to the farm Jenn has started a business of her own assisting companies with with business functions, talent strategy, strategic planning, and vendor management and more.

Sam and Jenn are active in their community and work to impact the next generation by promoting agriculture and serving their lord. In 2010, they hosted the June Dairy Breakfast for Marathon County. They are also involved in Farm Bureau, County DHIA, 4-H, Little Britches fair program, and their church.

Today ON-Q Holsteins has become a successful and thriving operation. The Zimmerman's attribute that success to their desire to share the legacy of farming passed down to them from their families with their own children and by embracing the challenges while continue to move forward in becoming industry leaders.

Amy Raboine and Marques Koenig of Raboine Jumping Jerseys of Reedsburg were the runners-up.