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Reinvesting in the future
The Zimdars family has farmed near Ripon, Wisconsin, for five generations. Like most dairy producers, David and his wife, Audrey, have had both good and bad years. Today their most valuable crop is reaching maturity: children Kyle, 23, Greg, 20, and Diana, 18.
“The next generation in farming has a bright horizon,” Diana says. “It's important to reinvest in the future.”
David, 56, began farming with his dad, Florian, in 1976. David's brother, Steven, 46, joined them in the mid-1980s. David and Steven continued farming in a 50/50 partnership after Florian, now 86, retired. They have a 190-head registered Holstein dairy, and they grow alfalfa, corn, wheat, and soybeans on 430 acres.
Kyle, like his dad and uncle, is a graduate of the farm and industry short course at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He returned three years ago to rent a stall barn. At the time, the Zimdarses were milking 120 cows in two facilities.
Last December, they expanded the herd and completed a free stall barn with a 236-head capacity. The barn features an attached double-eight parabone parlor that can be expanded to a double-12 parlor.
Kyle added to the herd and purchased new equipment, including a skid loader, tractor, and manure spreader. He does the milking and herd management.
“I like working with family, and I get the opportunity to invest gradually,” he says. “Family support and flexibility help me pursue my interest in registered Holsteins.”
Greg is enrolled in the dairy short course, and Diana is studying dairy science at Fond du Lac. Both live at home and help with milking, calf management, and baling. Diana plans a transfer to Madison.
The Zimdarses are in the process of adjusting to their expanded herd and facilities. “We're in the early stages of sorting out roles and planning for the future,” David says.
He handles crops, bedding, and manure management. Steve is in charge of feeding. Audrey feeds calves, handles bookkeeping, and is involved in calving.
Audrey grew up on an Illinois farm and earned a B.S. in science with an emphasis in animal science before moving to Wisconsin to work at East Central Select Sire in Waupun.
“My family got out of dairy in 1967, but I'd hang out at the neighbors' dairy farms and work for other dairy farmers, so I guess it was in my blood,” she says.
The Zimdars children's interest in agriculture isn't a coincidence. When each turned 12, David and Audrey helped him or her buy a dairy heifer.
Today Kyle owns 87 head; Greg has seven cows, eight heifers, and several steers. Diana owns five head of dairy and eight steers.
Like their parents, the children participated in collegiate dairy judging teams. “Being involved with 4-H and FFA helped them develop their interest in agriculture and taught them financial responsibility,” Audrey says. They also learned about sire selection as they've grown their herds.
Each one achieved state FFA farm degrees. Kyle and Greg have FFA American Farmer degrees; Diana is applying for one.
“I decided to return to farming because I feel agriculture is a viable industry with unlimited opportunities,” Greg says.
Steps for future growth
The past three years have brought about the following decisions:
1. Adding a free stall barn with a 236-head capacity for registered Holsteins.
2. Tripling their dairy herd and consolidating milk facilities from two buildings into one building.
3. Investing in the future by raising their herd replacements.
4. Feeding all their forage crops to the herd, discontinuing cash sales.