Dodge dairy breakfasts earlier than usual

Wisconsin State Farmer

FOX LAKE -  The Warmka family will host the Dodge County Dairy brunch this year on their farm at W9226 County C, Fox Lake. The event is planned for June 4, three weeks earlier than the county traditionally hosted the brunch to avoid conflicting with neighboring Fond du Lac County’s dairy breakfast.

Erik and Russ Warmka are busy getting their farm ready for the Dodge County Dairy Brunch June 4.  The family recently built a new calf barn and with curtain sides, visitors will be able to observe the calves in their various age pens.

There will be three locations for parking: Heritage Village Mall, Spring Street, Beaver Dam; Dodge County Highway Shop, County A, Beaver Dam; or the farm.  Shuttles will begin at 8:30 a.m.    

The rain or shine event costs $7 for adults, $3 for children 5-11 and children under 5 years old are free.  Tickets may only be purchased at the event.

The county held a brunch every year except 1981 when Dodge County hosted the Alice in Dairyland finals. A few years the brunch was held at the county fairgrounds but most of the events were on farms.

There was a question for a time whether the family would still be in the dairy business at the time of the brunch as the Warmkas were one of 75 families who were notified that their milk would no longer be accepted by Grassland Dairy after May 1.

Russ and Laura and their son Erik who operate the farm were very nervous about the future of their business until Dairy Farmers of America (DFA) stepped forward and offered to pick up their milk. 

In order to attract a buyer for their milk on such short notice the family purchased a new 6,700 gallon bulk cooler that would enable them to hold a full day’s production. Before that, their milk hauler picked up their milk twice a day because their addition of cows a few years ago, which allowed them to bring their son into the business, resulted in more milk than their cooler would hold in a day.

Around the same time the family also started milking three times a day which also resulted in more production from their cows.

They had delayed replacing the cooler in order to concentrate on putting in other improvements and facility additions to accommodate their growth. 

Their expansion occurred when Russ and Laura’s son Erik graduated from the University of Wisconsin-River Falls and joined the family full time as herd manager. He becomes the fourth generation to farm on the Warmka farm just out of Fox Lake.

When Andy and Betty Warmka bought their Fox Lake farm from Andy’s parents in 1987 they were milking 34 cows in a stanchion barn and raising pigs. 

Russ and Laura later joined his parents in the business the number of cows increased and the two couples farmed together until 2013 when they purchased the farm from Russ's parents. 


In 1992, the cows moved out of the 34-stanchion barn to a 150-cow freestall barn with drive-through feeding. In 2001, they took the next step, building a double-4 auto-flow milking parlor that was later expanded to double-5.

Just before Erik joined the family business in 2014, the farm switched to three times a day milking and they expanded from 250 to 350 cows and added another freestall barn. They now have 460 milking cows. 

The Warmkas also have a daughter Carrie who graduated in 2015 from UW-Madison with a dairy science degree and is a nutritionist with United Cooperative.

Their son Brad graduated from college this spring. He will work on the farm this year but is not sure what his future will bring.

Their youngest daughter Danielle is currently at UW-Madison.

All four of the younger generation Warmkas are enthusiastic about the dairy industry and active in numerous dairy organizations.

In their expansion they purchased a herd of cows from a neighbor but then used sexed semen on their heifers as a way to further increase the size of their herd from within.

They added onto their freestall barn on the end where they keep their transition cows. They have an area where close-up cows go in groups two weeks before calving. Next to the stalls are several maternity pens. 

Calves highlighted

Their most recent construction was a new calf barn that will likely be a highlight of the dairy brunch. Laura has always been in charge of calves on the farm and the new facility makes the job easier and provides more consistency for the calves that are fed three times a day. 

Before the construction of this building she fed calves in hutches outside which are good for the calves but hard for those caring for them. At any given time there are about 120 calves on hand. With the new system she is able to feed about 100 calves an hour with another half hour or so for cleaning bottles.

Laura Warmka watches the calves in her new calf barn that will be a highlight of the Dodge County Dairy Brunch June 4.

They raise heifer and bull calves in this barn with the bull calves then sold as feeders.
All the calves are fed by bottle in this new facility and it includes a dishwasher to clean the bottles after feedings.

Laura says, “I really believe bottles are better for the calves than pails. The sucking is good for their stomachs. It’s like a cow chewing its cud.”

All the pens have headlocks and it is easy to constantly observe the calves.

The 250 foot building has pens of nine, including a training pen. By swinging gates and moving calves to one side of the pen the family is able to easily clean the bedding out with a skid steer loader. They use a bale grinder to quickly distribute fresh straw.

The building is bright and ventilated with two long air tubes and curtains on each side. 

“Flies are not a problem in here,” Laura says. “There is plenty of air movement and no spilled feed.”

The Warmkas went to Iowa to visit a farm with this type of system and were convinced it was best suited to their needs. 

Other strategies

When the calves leave this barn they go to a nearby heifer grower and return to the barn when they are ready to join the milking string.

Russ is busy with day to day management of the farm. He also helps Laura with the morning care of the calves.

Besides the family labor, the Warmkas have hired help for milking the three shifts. They also run 450 acres of cropland and get help with tractor driving from some retired neighbors whose land they rent.

They work together a lot with neighbors and relatives and own some machinery together with neighbors in order to cut on costs.

The Warmkas buy a lot of their feed. They buy first crop hay from a neighbor who is in the hay business in order to make sure they get plenty of good quality dry baled hay.

They also include potatoes in their ration in order to cut down the amount of corn they need to purchase. The potatoes are those that the Wisconsin potato growers are not able to market for human consumption but they still provide plenty of nutrients to the cows.

Education stressed

The Warmkas have always been big on education. As members of PDPW they continue their own education in the dairy industry. 

They have always been involved and active with the Waupun FFA, too, and have hosted educational events for school children at their farm.

They are planning some educational events at this year’s dairy breakfast and want visitors to leave with a better understanding of dairy than they had when they came.

The Warmkas believe education should be combined with fun and tours. Delicious eggs with ham and cheese, and variety of dairy products are included in the meal is just a part of the on-farm experience.

They are happy to host this event and see it as an opportunity to show visitors their farm and how they care for their animals.

 The Warmka family at Fox Lake is getting ready to host the Dodge County Dairy brunch, earlier than past brunches have been.  Parking will be available on the farm and at two off-farm sites so the event will be held rain or shine.

Several other local organizations also plan to get involved in the event to help make it an enjoyable, educational day for everyone attending. There will be train barrel rides and 4-H and FFA activities for the entire family to enjoy.

Live music will be provided by Carol and the Keynotes.

The event will have live radio broadcasts, displays and activities as well as the “all-you-can-eat” pancakes, scrambled eggs with ham, assorted cheeses, milk and ice cream sundaes.