Sibling-owned Tri-Fecta Farm: a different kind of success
“Our parents Keven and Cheryl Schultz are very thoughtful and strategic and had a rule for us,” Kari Schultz Gribble says. “If you ever want to come back to the farm: Get educated, get other work off the farm for awhile and bring something back to the farm if you want to stay involved,” they said. And, we all did that.”
This simple statement has resulted in a 400 cow, 2000 acre farm near Fox Lake , in Dodge county that is now basically being run and owned by three young siblings. Recently I had a fascinating, interesting, enjoyable, but sometimes confusing and mind boggling visit to a farm consisting of two corporations: Fox View farm Inc. owned by Kevin and Cheryl Schultz and Tri-Fecta Farms Inc. owned by their three children.
Over my many years involved in agriculture as a county agent, TV farm director, ABS advertising manager, general manager of ADA of Wisconsin and as a journalist, I’ve visited thousands of dairy farms. Most farms are family owned and operated with the owner (probably the father) doing most of the decision-making and serving as the manager.
Sometimes I’ve had the feeling that I’d seen it all: dairy, crop and livestock farms of all sizes and kinds; successful farms and failing farms; many generation farms and new owner farms. Critical to the success of all farms is their management system centering on decision making, communication, training, record keeping, information and style. My conclusion is that all farms are different but tradition often reigns. Tri-Fecta farms is a bit different.
What if the family dairy farm has two sisters and a brother running the operation with no designated manager, has few management meetings (“we probably should get together more often,” they admit), has had a legacy plan for a long time and is composed of two different corporations?
That’s what I found - after getting sort of lost on the country roads of Dodge county (I didn't write the directions down) when I arrived at Fox View farm just outside Fox Lake and was greeted by Nick Schultz and sisters Katy Schultz and Kari Schultz Gribble.
We moved to the small dairy parlor office where I heard their story and asked questions where the threesome explained that they were the owners of Tri-Fecta Farms, Inc. that owns most of the dairy cows and much of the 2,000 acres of cropland.
“We began buying cropland from our parents in 2002, 41-year-old Kari explained. "It was only my brother Nick (now 38) and me then. Katy was still in school. She joined us in 2007 after graduation from UW-Platteville with a dairy business degree."
The brother-sisters combination gradually took over the farm operation as they bought more cows and land. Each has specific responsibilities:
Kari explained that she keeps all the financial records and lives at Arena with her family and is the Financial Aid manager at Edgewood College in Madison.
“I’m in charge of everything with a heartbeat (six full time employees and 400 milk cows and that many replacements),” Katy says with a laugh.
“I guess I’m in charge of everything else from crops to marketing to repairs,” Nick says. “We raise a lot of different crops: corn, beans, peas, alfalfa and rye. In addition we raise crops for several local dairies, they tell us what they want and we raise it for them.”
“Who is the manager of this big operation was my question?” Three blank faces stared back.
“I guess we don’t have one.” Katy says. “The three of us are so very different and we trust each other all the way. If we don’t all agree on a purchase or major change, we don’t do it.”
As for the required education and work factors: Kari gained a BA from Carthage College in Kenosha, an MBA from Edgewood College and worked in financial aid at Carthage and is the Director of financial aid at Edgewood. She is the farm’s CFO and handles all the financials from taxes, to insurance to payroll to paying bills. She lives in Arena with her husband and two children.
Nick attended Moraine Park Technical College at Fond du Lac gaining a welding degree and worked at John Deere in Horicon for a year and a half before returning to the farm. He, his wife and two children live on the farm.
Katy graduated from UW Platteville in 2007 with an agricultural business degree and worked for Agri-Nutrition Consulting at DeForest before coming home to the farm as herd manager. She also lives in a home on the farm with her young daughter.
Parents Keven and Cheryl started farming on his home farm next door in 1979 and raised market beef. “By 1989, we had animals scattered on six farms and I suggested we buy the farm next door and start a dairy farm,” Cheryl says.
In 1994 they built the first freestall barn with 240 cows added another barn a few years later and built the manure lagoon.
“We hadn’t dairied before and had a lot to learn,” she says. “Especially in working with employees. That was new in dairying at the time and no one near us had a bigger farm with employees."
In 2002, Keven and Cheryl began planning to bring children into ownership. “We felt that if they wanted to farm, they would do a better job if they were owners,” Cheryl says. "That also meant that we had to withdraw from some of our management responsibilities. No, we never felt the future was a problem — they (the kids) had the ability and skills to make decisions."
“Yes, there were times when we had to hold back and not jump in but we always said ‘let the kids decide.’ Today, Kari, Nick and Katy own 75 percent of the cows and much of the land, we help out but don’t want to be in the way,” she summarized.
The farm utilizes six full time Hispanic employees: two married couples, another women and another man. “The women do the milking, one per each of the two shifts on an alternating basis. We milk at 7:30 morning and night,” Katy says. “This allows the milkers to get their children off to school and to be home when school is out." The three men help in barn work and with the cropping. Dad, Keven, is also on the tractor much of the time.
What works for us
Nick explains their farming philosophy: “We try to farm in a progressive way, not always the way experts say, but what works for us. Whatever we buy must meet our goals of efficiency, making money and offering a better life.”
About the two corporations: “They are legally separate but work together,” Kari says. “One grows (Tri-Fecta) the other gets smaller over the years.”
No, we’re not a CAFO and “we’ll never get that big,” Nick says.
It was an interesting and educational visit to a farm that does things a bit different — not many parents (or children) do it that way! As always, there are no concrete rules for successful farming — it’s always the people. And, as it always seems to be, the successful larger dairies are usually a combination of children getting in early as owners. If the family runs out, often the farm does the same.
John Oncken is owner of Oncken Communications. He can be reached at 608-222-0624, or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.