Today we're sitting down with Brenda Schloneger from Legacy Farms, a 1,100 cow dairy operation south-west of Shell Lake.
She's grabbed a cup of the Dock's house blend coffee and makes herself comfortable while awaiting the questions.
Brenda is from Indiana and her husband Rod was born and raised in Ohio. They met at college in Indiana, she pursuing a degree in Social Work and Rod as an Art Major. Both had been raised on farms, but farming was the last thing on their minds.
They married while still in college in 1973 and in 1975 they were following in their parent's footsteps and looking for a small farm somewhere so they could milk cows.
They found out that some people they from Indiana were moving to rural Spooner to buy farms because the land was so much cheaper. Rod spent the first winter in Wisconsin helping to build Trego Community Church. In the spring they purchased all the cows, equipment and feed on a small, derelict farm in Springbrook.
Two weeks after they moved into their first place, they were offered the opportunity to farm with another couple, and they jumped at the chance.
It wasn't long before they found a farm for sale west of Shell Lake and were about ready to sign the papers and the husband backed out of the deal, wanting to stay on the farm.
Their final move was a place farther south of Shell Lake. They were told that the two previous owners had lost their shirts, but they were determined to stay and make a go of it.
They moved their original herd of thirty cows three times that year, and now they were set; a small one hundred fifty five acre farm with room to grow.
The first two years were exceedingly hard. They were living the life that you only read about; endless days of work, babies in the tractor for twelve hours complete with bottles and diapers so the crops could be put in, tended and then harvested.
It was the Farmer's Service Agency (FSA) who came to their rescue with an unusual proposal, to cash flow they must get bigger. They did. Soon there were 45 cows, and then 60 and they had five of their own children and raised an additional seven more. That's right, a dozen kids.
Brenda, since 1975 when you and Rod bought the farm you own now, how has it changed?
When the oldest boy was a young teenager, we could tell he was very interested in farming and we started thinking about his future. We knew how hard it was to start on your own and decided we would get bigger to make it possible to farm together. Over the years 4 of our boys have joined us. We got up to 130 cows at our original farm, and then when we needed to do another expansion, we moved a mile up the road and went up to 450 cows. We are up to 1150 milking cows now. We had no personal desire to get this big. It was driven by the need to be profitable. We own 1700 acres, and with the rented land, we crop about 2700 acres.
You mentioned that as your kids grew and the boys became interested in farming, you honored each of their skills by putting them in charge of certain operations on the farm. How has that worked out?'
It has worked very well. My husband Rod has given responsibility to the kids at a young age. Rod still does the combine harvesting (with a 1984 Gleaner) and helps mostly with the cropping. Joshua oversees the feeding, DNR compliance, and forage harvesting. Equipment maintenance takes up the remainder of his time. Reuben manages all the cows and the herdsmen. He started an embryo flush program, and we do some in vitro fertilization. We have registered cows that have won some nice awards. John does the crop spraying and is in charge of all the farm trucks, including four semis. He also does tillage, harvesting, and mechanics. Noah does the planting, other field work, and mechanics.
Why did you become an LLC and who chose the name Legacy Farms?
We had to figure out how we could operate as a family business. This way we each have a certain percentage. We have changed the percentage with time. Rod came up with the name. The farm is set up so it can go on to the next generation.
Due to an unusually long winter this year winter, how will the very late spring affect your crops?
When the fields finally get dry enough for us to start, we will need to go every hour we possibly can. We are trying to line up a few extra people to help. It is a little scary when spring is this late. You never know when the rain will make you stop, either. When the fields are too wet, you have to wait. Corn takes a certain number of days to get ripe, and up here we have a shorter season. Last year at this time John had already been spraying the alfalfa.
You mentioned that you'd developed a skill working with the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, could you explain what you do and how it helps the farm?
I guess my job for the farm is to think about money all the time! I am very active doing anything to either protect us financially or even sometimes I do the same thing speculators do. I have a trading account to do either futures or options for primary milk, but I have also done cheese, live cattle, corn, and beans. I also do contracts with feed suppliers and fuel providers. This has worked out very good for us.
Even with each of the family members doing their part on the farm, you still employ almost thirty people. You mentioned needing additional help now and then. What kind of help do you need, how often and what is your contact number if someone is interested?
The cows are milked three times a day, and that means it's going on around the clock. I would say our biggest stress is having enough people to get all the work done. It's a lot of work to take good care of all these cows and all the calves and young stock. Then the barns have to stay clean, and we have to feed them. Anybody interested in this type of work could call the farm phone 715-468-4321.
With four of your son, their wives and their children involved in the Legacy Farms operation, all living within a mile of you, you mentioned that before you ate your 2016 Thanksgiving dinner, one of your daughters-in-law wanted everyone to say what they were most thankful for. Will you share what they said?
That daughter-in-law wanted to share her happiness to be pregnant again, and most people had the usual things to be thankful for, but the four sons who farm with us all said they were so thankful to have the chance to farm with us. This is the life they wanted for themselves and their families.
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