Clinton family expands dairy operation for the next generation

Dan Hansen
Decked out in their special shirts, the Clinton Clan was on hand to welcome 800 visitors who came to their recent open house.

TOWN OF BEAR CREEK – It’s highly likely that the Clinton family has hosted more visitors on their farm than just about anyone else in the state.

The Clinton farm, in eastern Waupaca County, hosted the 25th Wisconsin Farm Progress show in 1978 and the 50th show – the first to be called Wisconsin Farm Technology Days – in 2003. 

“Those were the days when attendance topped well over 100,000,” remarked Jim Clinton, who along with his wife, Sue, have been managing the farm since 1992.

Earlier this month, the family hosted more than 800 visitors who came to view the farm’s new milking center, freestall barn and other facilities designed with cutting-edge technology.

The beginning

It was 1966 when Jim’s parents, Roland (Joe) and Dorothy, moved from the Berlin area to the farm along State Highway 22, which they bought from Emil Kuehl, who owned local several businesses including a new-car dealership.

“We had a 100-stall stanchion barn and 400 acres of land at that time, and our biggest tractor was a 70-horse,” recalled Clinton. “We tore down several older buildings, and we built a new machine shed just before we hosted Farm Progress Days in 1978.

A new farm shop was added along with a loose-housing shed for heifers. “We built our first freestall barn for 200 cows in 1998, and we put in our double-six flat-barn parlor that same year,” he noted.

A heifer barn was built, and nine years ago the freestall barn was expanded to house an additional 150 cows. In 2015, another barn was built for heifers and dry cows.

The farm’s acreage, owned and rented, has grown to over 2,300 acres, with about 1,700 tillable. Current crops include, corn, soybeans, alfalfa and some winter wheat.

The main entrance to Clinton’s new milking center overlooks the parlor and also features space for an office and conference room.

A new chapter

Jim and Sue’s son, Brad, and daughter, Carrie (Clinton) Griepentrog, who have worked on the farm full-time for several years, have been taking a more active role in the farm’s management.

To help ensure that they, and future generations of the family, can remain competitive in the dairy industry, the family embarked on a major expansion in 2018.

A new 212-stall freestall barn was constructed that includes fans and alley scrapers that are computer controlled. “It’s a six-row building with two feed alleys,” said Brad. “This allows us to move a bigger group to the parlor, which should be more efficient.”

A 250-cow holding area leads into the parlor that features a 50-stall Waikato Centrus Composite Rotary Milking System, Stainless HD stalls, milk meters Navigate Dairy Management System and SmartD-Tect.

Operating in a clockwise rotation, the carousel brings cows right to the parlor operators who wipe the udders and attach the milking units.

Parlor operation

Tom Schley, with Waikato Milking Systems, says the parlor has several unique features that contribute to a more milking operation. 

“It has the first composite deck in the state that has 80 percent less weight, takes less power to operate and will last longer,” he explained. “The smart-spray feature automatically sprays the cow pre-dip, and when she’s done milking the system will post-dip her.”

The SmartD-Tect system measures conductivity for each quarter. “That system does the stimulating and fore stripping and provides alerts regarding mastitis and high cell counts. All the operator has to do is wipe the cow and attach the cluster,” Schley stated. “There’s a lot of automation in the parlor, so they’ll be able to milk about 350 cows an hour, and that will cut their labor costs significantly.

Brad pointed out that milk will go from the parlor to a chiller and then into the semi tanker. “There’s no bulk tank.”

He expects that two people will be operating the parlor, with one wiping cows and one attaching the milking units. “One person could it, all you’d need to do is slow down the parlor,” he said. “In the beginning, we’ll probably need someone to move the different cow groups from the barn. Once the cows get used to it, they should pretty much come on their own.”

Some may wonder why the Clintons would expand with a new parlor now during the time of low milk prices.

“We had to expand now because we were spending about 18 hours a day milking our herd of 500 cows three time a day in our old parlor,” stressed Carrie.

“We were also able to negotiate better prices with our contractors now because not as many farmers are building,” said Brad, “and when milk prices go up, we’ll be better able to take advantage of that.”