D&B Sternweis Farms is truly a family affair

Wisconsin State Farmer

WOOD COUNTY - D&B Sternweis Farms – co-host of the 2018 Wisconsin Farm Technology Days in Wood County, Wisconsin July 10-12 – is every bit a family farm. Owners Daryl and Brenda Sternweis of Marshfield have a new 40-cow rotary parlor and are primed for expansion. But their children, the fifth generation on the farm, have participated in chores from early on. And Daryl’s dad Jim Sternweis, at 85, still helps with field work, as well.

Daryl and Brenda Sternweis of Marshfield are co-hosting Wisconsin Farm Technology Days in Wood County.

“It’s a really great way to raise a family,” said Brenda Sternweis of farming. She said they keep close to their family-farm roots participating in activities like 4-H and FFA alumni, snowmobiling and simple pleasures like planting a garden and hanging clothes outdoors. 

The Sternweis children all help at D&B Sternweis Farms. Pictured are (from left) Justin, Brittney, Brooke, Jonathon (in front), Autumn and Heather (Sternweis) Heiman. Not pictured is Aaron Sternweis.

When Sternweises’ oldest daughter Heather married Josh Heiman in 2016, their life-long friends and neighbors became “family,” too. Josh Heiman’s parents, Ken and Joellen Heiman, and other Heiman family members, own Weber’s Farm Store and Heiman Holsteins. Heimans are co-hosting the show with Sternweises. Besides being milk producers and retailers, the Heimans are cheese makers and owners of Nasonville Dairy near Marshfield. 

Life-long farmer

Daryl Sternweis, 53, is a life-long farmer. 

“I grew up with it and learned to love it,” he said. “I love the field work part of it. And now with the new freestall barn and rotary I’ve become a better ‘cow man’ than I ever thought I would be.”

Brenda tends youngstock, a role she said is “rewarding.”

“It’s kind of like raising kids,” she said of the delight she experiences when calves do well. “We name our favorites. It’s fun to follow them through the stages and into the milking herd.” 

Heather (Sternweis) Heiman, 26, graduated from Mid-State Technical College’s two-year farm program in Marshfield. Many of the classes are taught by Mike Sabel, vice-chair of the FTD executive committee. With her mother she overseas fresh cows and herd health and is working toward farm ownership. 

D&B Sternweis Farms are made up of the entire family. Pictured are (from left, top) Wisconsin dairy farmers Daryl and Brenda Sternweis, and their son Justin, 24; (middle) Brittney Sternweis, 17, Autumn Sternweis, 15, and Brooke Sternweis, 13; and (bottom) Jonathan Sternweis, 11, and Heather (Sternweis) Heiman, 26. Not pictured is Sternweises’ son Aaron Sternweis, 22.

The Sternweises’ oldest son, Justin, 24, has worked full-time on the farm since high-school graduation, where he does the feeding with his dad.

“I really enjoy the work – the physical labor,” he said. “I especially like driving tractor.”

Another brother, Aaron, 22, works off the farm as a diesel mechanic. The other Sternweis children are Brittney, 17, Autumn, 15, Brooke, 13, and Jonathon, 11. D&B Sternweis Farms also has full-time and part-time non-family employees. 

Rotary parlor new in 2017

The Sternweises flipped the switch on their 40-cow rotary parlor last August. They anticipated milking about 450 Holstein cows three times a day by Wisconsin Farm Technology Days. The rotary is capable of milking as many as 1,300 cows. The milking system is computerized with automatic takeoffs. Other technologies include an automatic crowd gate, hand-held teat scrubber and automated footbath that fills with the touch of a button for better chemical consistency and employee safety. A touch-screen operated sort gate can divert cows to a pen off the return alley that holds 30 head.

Visitors get an upclose view of the inside of the 40-unit rotary parlor at the Sternweis farm. While the parlor milks around 400 cows, it it capable of milking as many as 1300 animals.

Brenda says the cows look forward to riding the rotary and enter the holding area at a brisk pace. She said they chew their cuds and are so relaxed during milking. The new parlor complex has a viewing window into the parlor and upstairs conference room and office. 

Cameras in the parlor and other locations on the farm are relied upon for employee safety and monitoring livestock, particularly to detect calves born at night. Heather Heiman said a quick check on the cell phone saves a lot of labor.

Barn is tunnel ventilated

Their freestall barn features tunnel ventilation with fully automated fans and vent adjustments. Daryl said that while more expensive up front than natural ventilation, tunnel ventilation provides more cow comfort, especially in summer.

D&B Sternweis Farm of Marshfield, Wisconsin, features a new 40-stall rotary parlor and tunnel-ventilated freestall barn.

Cattle are divided into four groups—fresh and special-needs cows, a high-production cow group, a segregated heifer group and the rest of the milk cows. Freestalls in the six-row barn are bedded with sawdust over mattresses. Sternweises use sawdust in other barns, too.

“I know sand is king for cow comfort,” Daryl says. “But it’s labor intensive to take out of the pit.”

Manure is transferred by gravity flow from barn to manure pit, which is emptied in fall, applied via dragline and knifed in. 

The farm utilizes sexed semen on high-end cows. And they use beef semen on cows difficult to breed. Calves are hand-fed in individual pens for a week before moving to group pens with automated feeders. Once weaned, heifers move through a series of facilities. Daryl said they’re hoping in fall to move 600-pound heifers to a custom grower and have them return bred six months. 

The Sternweises flipped the switch on their 40-cow rotary parlor last August. They anticipated milking about 450 Holstein cows three times a day by Farm Technology Days.

Visitors will see parlor, milking barn

During Wisconsin Farm Technology Days visitors can board buses for tours of Sternweises’ rotary parlor and adjoining tunnel-ventilated barn. The farmstead is about a quarter-mile from the heart of Tent City. Visitors will not be able to get off the buses. 

Many hands eases field-work load

The family owns about 1,200 acres and rents no additional land to grow corn, alfalfa hay and soybeans. Second-crop haylage harvested during Wisconsin Farm Technology Days will be delivered to Sternweises’ bunkers. 

The family shares labor for field work with Heiman Holsteins. The Sternweises also share labor and own equipment with Daryl's brother, Jerry Sternweis, who also dairy farms nearby.

Every six weeks the family meets with their farm-advisory group which includes their nutritionist, veterinarian and lender. The team plots the future of this family farm. The immediate future is ultra hectic with Wisconsin Farm Technology Days nearing.

Daryl says future expansion is always a possibility.

"We built this milking operation with expansion in mind. The next step will involve sitting down with the kids and making this decision as a family," he said.

Daryl and Brenda said their family is honored to be co-hosting the 2018 show for Wood County. They’re grateful for the opportunity to promote farming, which for these co-hosts is a mix of traditional family-farming values and practices and new technology that will move their farm into the future.

"Brenda and I grew up on farms and you learn to love this life and its something you're passionate about," Daryl said. "We want to keep this history going. I'm on this earth for a very short time and my job is to raise my family and to take care of this land."

Colleen Kottke contributed to this story