MADISON — When Renee Clark’s grandfather bought their family’s farm near Platteville in 1947, he began milking 13 cows in a stanchion barn. His sons, Louie and George, continued the tradition, eventually taking over the farm and making way for the third generation: Renee and her husband, Matt; Eric Kieler and his wife, Leah; and Daniel Kieler, siblings and cousins who continue the tradition of the “family farm” today.
Nine family members in total are owner-operators of Kieler Farms Inc., a dairy farm with a milking herd of 1,800. Each member has their own niche area on the farm and tackle management issues together, something that Clark said hasn’t been too tough of a challenge.
“We work pretty well together,” she said. “It’s because we all have this underlying loyalty and dedication to the farm.”
It is what has made the Kielers successful as a family and as a family-owned farming operation.
The Kielers’ 3,500 acre dairy farm was the first dairy operation to be featured last week during World Dairy Expo’s virtual farm tours, a 45-minute presentation that allowed attendees to peek into some of the best dairy facilities in North America. Eight dairies were featured in total — an aspect of World Dairy Expo that has been continued for the past 15 years.
Since Grandpa settled the farm in 1947, the Kielers have looked for efficiencies and sought out ways to improve cow comfort on their farm. In 2001, they built a parallel parlor for their cows, recently upgrading again in 2018 to a 50-cow rotary parlor equipped with new technology to make teat prep and post-dipping more efficient.
Leah Kieler, who manages the parlor area, explained to attendees how the new rotary parlor works. Cows enter the parlor and are away from their pens for less than an hour; Leah said she and her employees can get 275 cows milked in less than an hour with the new parlor. New technology in the parlor has also allowed the family to milk three times the amount of cows they had before without having to hire additional employees.
“It’s been a great efficiency improvement for us,” she said.
The cross-ventilated free stall barn on their farm also gains efficiencies. Cows relax on sand bedding that is also recycled on the farm. The barn also has a livestock comfort system installed, which adjusts fan speed and temperature to maximize cow comfort.
“We have a very young herd on the farm,” said Daniel Kieler, one of three veterinarians in the family.
The Kielers expanded the herd using heifers; they also use sexed semen and have noticed better herd health with their new facility.
“It’s another efficiency,” Daniel said.
Calves on the farm are fed twice a day and raised in huts for the first eight weeks before being moved to retrofitted hog barns on another Kieler farm nearby. The family has also began experimenting with beef breeds on their farm, which brings their total livestock numbers up to 4,500.
The Kielers raise all their own forages, including corn and hay. They do their own planting and harvesting but rely on someone else for manure handling, although it appeared to be something they’d like to explore eventually.
The farm has welcomed guests from all over the country, and even some visitors from overseas have stopped by. More locally, 4-H groups and area FFAs have also come to the farm to get a glimpse of how things operate. Because of this, it was important to the Kieler family to have a viewing room so visitors could observe milking in the rotary parlor.
Clark said there was some pushback when the family first began construction on the new facility in 2018, but since then, comments have been mostly positive. She believes that if a farm is open and transparent, allowing people to see how the farm is operated, people who are unsure are more likely to understand the operation better.
As the family looks to the future, their goal is to “run as efficiently as possible,” Daniel said.