Viergutz family continues dairy legacy that began more than a century ago

Dan Hansen
Correspondent
The Viergutz family, from left,  David, Jacob and Connie Viergutz, welcomed Cow College visitors to their new calf barn. Joining them is Sara Maass-Pate, right, agriculture instructor from Fox Valley Technical College.

CLINTONVILLE, Wis. – While the number of Wisconsin dairy farms continues to shrink each year, some farms have continued to grow and expand over several generations.

One of those is Triple D Dairy just north of Clintonville near the Waupaca-Shawano County line, which is currently owned and operated by David and Connie Viergutz and their children Jacob and Erin.

“The farm has been in our family since 1978,” recalled David. “I’ve been on the farm ever since I got out of high school.”

At the beginning of the 21st Century the Viergutz family had 80 milk cows, but a barn fire in 2000 caused them to re-evaluate their operation.

“At that time we considered whether to sell the cows and quit dairy farming, or continue milking cows, and we decided to milk cows,” he said. “Today we milk just over 500 cows and have about the same amount of young stock. We also farm about 1,500 acres of owned and rented land.”

Group calf barn

Over the years, several new buildings have been constructed to accommodate their growing herd.

The newest addition is a building 64 feet wide by 118 feet long that is designed to raise more than 80 young calves in group pens, and has been in use for nearly two months. The new barn was the focus of the second leg of the recent Cow College farm tour.

These young calves rest comfortably on the straw and sawdust bedding in their new group pen.

Consolidating the young calves in a more efficient location was a primary reason for constructing the new building, according to Viergutz.

“We had calves in another barn and two spots for hutches, but nobody likes feeding them out there in the cold,” he said.

“We needed more room for weaning calves, and we thought about taking out the individual pens in the other barn, putting in group pens and building something new all in one spot. Dr. Jason (Marish, the farm’s veterinarian) offered some ideas, and our builder Ron VanHandel gave us some ideas, and the project grew from there,” Viergutz added.

“There was a warming room off from where the cows calves were," said Marish. “I talked Dave into putting in some headlocks there, which is kind of like a staging area. After nearly a year, the family got comfortable with how the headlocks were working, and that kind of spurred the concept of a barn that looks like this.”

Ventilation and feeding

This barn differs from the one at the Riesenberg farm that tour participants had seen earlier in the day, according to Marish.

“In my mind it’s just a giant inside calf hutch,” he said. “In here we’re controlling the wind with a tube ventilation system, and we’re getting four air changes per hour.”

Fans at one end of the barn increase the air circulation as the temperature increases.

“When the temperature reaches 55 degrees the fans come on, and when it hits 58 another set of fans will kick in to keep the calves cool and comfortable,” Marish explained.

The building is designed to move calves in and out easily.

“We can bring our cattle trailer in here and bring in new animals or move others out,” said David, adding that calves are kept in the birthing area for about 12 hours, and then brought to the new barn where they remain for around 10 weeks.

“We like to get them in here as soon as possible,” said Jacob Viergutz.

Grain feeders hanging at the front of the pens are turned toward the inside of the pens to make it easier for younger calves to eat. When calves reach two or three weeks of age, feeders are switched to the outside, which helps keep the feeder cleaner.

He also demonstrated a unique feature of the feeding system.

“We have grain feeders hanging in the front of the pens. For the real young calves we turn them toward the inside of the pens because the calves seem to be able to find the feed easier when they’re younger, and when calves get to about two or three weeks old, we’ll switch feeders to the outside of the pen, which helps keep the feeder cleaner.”

"Feeding is pretty quick with calves in the headlocks, as you just go down the row,” said Marish. Calves also have water available whenever they want to drink.

Convenient cleaning

Currently calves are bedded on a combination of sawdust and straw.

“The building was open during the whole month of January and the concrete froze,” said David. “So we put down sawdust and straw to keep the calves off the frozen concrete.”

Step-up pads are located at the front of each pen. Gates can be closed to keep calves in that area.

“Then we can add bedding or clean the pens,” said Dave. “The importance of the curb is to have something for the skid-steer bucket to follow as we’re cleaning the pens.”

Asked if they would make any changes to the building after about two months of use, David said, “I would add six inches to the curb so we could put our gates on the end of the pens instead of the sides which would make cleaning a little easier, and maybe add a hydrant to wash down some areas so we wouldn’t have to drag a hose from the utility room.”

Hosting June dairy brunch

The Viergutz family is also preparing to host the Shawano County Brunch on the Farm Sunday, June 26. Along with the new calf barn, visitors will see another new barn that’s currently being built to replace one that was damaged during a mid-December windstorm.

The June Dairy Brunch will be held from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. and will feature a hearty breakfast, with ice cream for dessert, along with informative and fun activities for the entire family.

More information on the dairy brunch is available online at shawanofarmbureau.com