Professional Dairy Producers of Wisconsin Celebrates 25 Years

One of the industry’s premier organizations for producer education held its annual business conference in Madison

            By John Oncken

John Oncken is owner of Oncken Communications, Madison, Wis., and publishes Agri-Dairy Business Letter every other week. For subscription information contact him at 608-222-0624, or by email at [email protected]. This report is taken with permission from the Mar. 18 edition.

There was something going on every moment of the two-day annual PDPW Business Conference held Mar. 15 and 16 at the Alliant Energy Center in Madison, Wis., including: 74 expert speakers & producer panelists, 61 individual education sessions, 4 Keynote Sessions, 25 Specialty & Breakout Sessions, 15 Learning Lounge Sessions, 12 NEW Research Previews, 5 Hands-On Labs and near 200 commercial and educational exhibits.  Add in the annual banquet, meals, ice cream and of course, the talking among old and new friends and you have more than any attendee could fully participate in.

Subjects ranging from “Advanced dairy production to “Tying the knot; the ins and outs of marital law” drew crowds. I sat in on the “Dairying without rBST” offered by Dr. Gordie Jones, independent dairy consultant and partner at the 3500-cow Central Sands Dairy at Nekoosa and Dean Strauss of Majestic Crossing Dairy at Sheboygan Falls. They did not offer a simple solution to the average 7 pound per day milk loss when rBST is stopped – just top management.  Jones emphasized a few things I’ve not heard often spoken about: “Cows must never be more than four hours away from their feed and stall,” Jones says. “Over 56% of the milk flow is not because of the ration; good beds make more milk; many free stalls are built wrong; they must be easy to get into and out of; sand bedding will add six pounds of milk.”

He also has studied the effect on cattle when not using rBST and finds lower cell counts, less hospital time and higher pregnancy rates. But says, “We’ve made other changes in our dairy over the years.” Jones concluded by saying: “Everything you do has an effect (good or bad) on the cow and you can make up the loss of production rBST gave.”

As always, I spent a lot of time talking to producers and suppliers about the extended low dairy prices and as always didn’t find much doom and gloom from either. Susan Barsness came to the conference from Starbuck, Minn., where she, husband, Pader, and family milk 140 cows at Barsness Dairy. “We’re doing OK,” she says. “We built a new barn with a Double-6 parlor in the late ‘80’s, we control our costs, aren’t afraid to buy good used equipment and don’t carry any debt. And yes, we did put away some money during the high milk price years knowing that the price would go down eventually.”

“Our health insurance is very expensive but our great dairy processor, 1st District Association, will shortly be offering a new plan that will really cut our premium,” she says. (Note 1st District Association is a cooperative based in Litchfield, Minnesota that began operations in 1921.)

Lonnie Holthaus and his family have been milking 300 cows near Fennimore, Wis., for the past 15 years or so. “We started from scratch and had to buy everything.” Lonnie says. “I had been working in the dairy equipment sales business for DeLaval and BECO until I contracted Guillain-Barré Syndrome (GBS) and found it difficult to walk or stand for long periods” (Note – GBS is a disorder in which the body’s immune system attacks part of the peripheral nervous system. Symptoms include varying degrees of weakness in the legs.)

Lonnie is the manager and computer whiz with sons Jeremy and Josh, a herdsman and six employees taking care of the herd. “We milk 3X and 6X on fresh cows and have a 33,500-pound herd average,” Lonnie says. “It’s a matter of good water, good air, cow comfort and good management. He admits that because they have only owned the farm for a relatively short time, low milk prices are a challenge.”

My discussion with three construction companies brought the same answers: We are still building, they say. If dairy producers need a barn, parlor, calf facility or whatever, they still go ahead. They want to keep the operation current and modern – you can’t just stop. One builder said “last year we did a lot of remodeling and expansion for existing customers, this year we have jobs with first time customers – I’m not sure what it means.” “The low milk price is a challenge too many dairy producers,” David Kappleman and Jeff Wilke, ag lenders at Denmark State Bank said. “We’ve done some loan adjustments and are working close with our dairy borrowers – it’s farms of all sizes, big, middle size and large. A dairyman can’t control his price but we can help improve farm financial management.

It was a great two days for producers of all sizes, all ages and of varying management skills. It was also an audience of top farmers – that’s the kind that come to meeting where there is a lot of learning going on. I remember well my days as a county extension agent in Clark county and how it was always the top farmers that came to educational meetings – those who needed the help stayed home. It remains so.

Three new members were elected to PDPW board of directors: Andy Buttles milks 1200 cows with his wife Lyn at Stone-Front Farm, Lancaster; Katy Schmidt, Fox Lake, milks 500 cows on 2,000 acres at Tri-Fecta Farms Inc. with her siblings Kari and Nick; and Steven Orth, at Orthland Dairy, Cleveland, milks 800 cows on 1600 acres with his mother Maxine and brother Joel. A final note – the annual banquet was indeed an event as directors from past and present, advisors and staff were introduced – we wondered if the stage was strong enough to hold them up – it did. True, I didn’t know what the future was going to be 25 years ago, when I attended that first conference – now I know. You can get more info at and perhaps become a member. Why not?

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