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Successful dairy farmers can take a day off

April 15, 2014 | 0 comments

"We worked all the time," Dave Roskopf said, explaining the growth of the family dairy operation he and his wife Monica have built since their marriage in 1999. "I milked cows while in high school and began to buy into the farm owned by my parents soon after."

Dave's comment about "working all the time," instantly brought to mind memories of how, over my many years of working with dairy farmers, I'm always amazed and underwhelmed by the many who have bragged about "never taking a day off from milking."

Even though they had children, some were prideful that, while they didn't miss any weddings, they also didn't miss any milkings.

That determination to always be in, or close to, the dairy barn may be fading as dairy herds get fewer and bigger, but it's surprising how many dairy farmers who grew their herds in order "to have more free time," really don't.

These thoughts came to mind recently while talking (at their kitchen table) with Dave and Monica who milk 190 cows near Iron Ridge in Dodge county.

Life changed

"Our farming life changed three years ago," Dave said. "Although I had done all the things one is supposed to do in order to make going into a silo safe during chopping, I looked into the silo to see if it was full and was exposed to silo gas. The result was three days in the hospital, but I'm OK. "

"He was young and healthy," Monica added. "He was also fortunate." (Note: The concrete stave silo has since been removed and replaced with bags.)

"The experience made me realize that life was not all about work and might be short," Dave said. "Our children were young, and we really wanted to enjoy them and life, so we changed our ways and began to take some time off."

A Friday night Brewers game

This conversation took place just last week, a couple of hours before Dave and Monica were leaving for the Brewers-Pirates baseball game in Milwaukee. They would miss the evening milking, but it would get done without them.

The milking also went off on schedule last fall when the Roskopfs and their young boys, Trevor and Brendan, attended the annual Farm Toy Show in Dyersville, Iowa. It was the same during their vacation on a Disney Cruise to the Bahamas in February.

Don't get the idea that Dave and Monica ignore their dairy farming business — no way!

They milk 190 cows averaging some 26,000 milk on 2x milking and farm 700 acres of cropland with their own equipment including an Ag-Bagger, which they use for all their forage. Dave and neighbor Mark Kuhlman own a combine that they use for their own crops and some custom combining.

Beginning in 1968

Like most Wisconsin dairy farms, the Roskopf Farm didn't happen overnight.

Dave's parents Raymond and Mardell moved from Menomonee Falls, an area transitioning from farmland to city, in 1968 to the 40-cow, 140-acre farm located between Horicon and Iron Ridge.

In 1980, Dave's parents remodeled the barn to hold 70-88 cows, he said. There were four children: his brother, two sisters and Dave. I was the one who wanted to be a farmer, he said.

After graduating from high school, Dave joined the family farming operation full time. He did find time to attend Moraine Park Technical College at nearby Horicon to take farm business classes.

80 cows and a stanchion barn

In 1999, Dave and Monica were married.

"She lived just down the road," Dave said, "and, was the youngest of nine children."

At the time of their marriage, the newlyweds milked 80 cows in a stanchion barn and took over the farm operations as Raymond and Mardell retired.

In 2001, the Roskopfs made their first move to dairy herd expansion by building a freestall barn, thus opening more of the dairy barn for milk cows, and they began double-shift milking. This is an experience the couple, not so fondly, well remember.

In 2006, another freestall barn and a Double 8 Westfalia Surge parlor were built, and milking became easier. It also opened, after extensive remodeling, the former dairy barn to calf and heifer housing.

That was also the year that Dave and Monica purchased the farmstead, and the same year Dave's dad contracted a severe case of the shingles that took him away from doing a lot of the cropping work he had helped with.

Currently, the old dairy barn and its several additions are home to the calves and heifers; one freestall houses the milking herd and parlor; and the other has dry, maternity and fresh cow sections. A concrete lagoon can store over a year of manure.

A true family farm

The Roskopfs have one full-time employee: James Bouprey (Monica's nephew), two part-time milkers (both local) and part-timer, Carl Girth (Monica's brother), who is retired and helps during cropping seasons and when needed.

"I guess you can say this is really a family farm," Dave said. "I do much of the feeding, help with milking and do the cropping.

Monica explained that she works where she is needed from milking to raising a big garden to helping her sons raise pumpkins, which they sell at the roadside. She also works as a "part-time, fill-in teacher's aid" during the school year.

"Dave and I do the accounts and bookkeeping on our computers with some outside help on payroll from an accountant," she said. "Herd records are based on a Dodge County DHI and AgSource program."

"Our dairy herd has always been closed — we've never bought a cow." Dave said. Their milk goes to the family-owned Grassland Dairy at Greenwood.

They breed with Select Sires, use an activity monitor, have weekly herd checks with Dr. Jim Moore, a veterinarian from Hustisford, and get nutrition advice from Randy Messer of VitaPlus in Columbus, he added.

The Roskopfs run a truly efficient, attractive and profitable family dairy that, with 190 cows, falls in the range of what many ag economists have called the "no man's land of dairying — too big for a family, too small for hired employees."

They have worked very hard and very smart to arrive at where they are and, as of now, have no plans for immediate expansion. But, they are young, with Dave just over 40, Monica just under and their sons still in grade school.

However, Dave does have plans to build a new machine shop, something he wants and needs.

Not the same farm

An aerial view of the farm in 1980 is nearly unrecognizable as compared to the current farm layout. Only the house, dairy barn and one shed remain; the former small manure pit has been filled in, and the concrete silo is gone. New are the dairy complex and rows of silo bags.

Dave and Monica Roskopf still work long and hard but also know that life can change fast and can be short, so they combine work and pleasure. A good mix!

John F Oncken is owner of Oncken Communications, a Madison-based agricultural information and consulting company. He can be reached at 608-222-0624, or email him at jfodairy@chorus.net.

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