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Feltzes build for the next generation

2016 Master Agriculturist Ken Feltz farms near Stevens Point

Fran O'Leary, Wisconsin Agriculturist Senior Editor

March 30, 2016

5 Min Read

Ken Feltz has milked cows most of his life, but that's not what he thought he would do when he was growing up on his family's dairy and vegetable farm near Stevens Point.

"My dad was the crops guy and by default, I became the cow guy," Ken explains. "When I was growing up, we never took a day off. That's not the lifestyle I wanted. My goal was to be a stock broker. I really didn't know what I wanted to do. I just knew I wanted a different lifestyle -- I wanted to see my kids play sports."

But after working as an AI technician breeding cows for ABS for a couple of years and working at area canning factories Ken always returned to the farm. In 1993, he purchased the cows from his parents.


"Back then, the cows averaged 40 pounds of milk per day," Ken says.

Bold moves

A year later, Ken and his wife Jackie decided to buy his parents' farm, 50 heifers and farm equipment.

"I decided to milk cows and I got passionate about cows because that was the ticket to the lifestyle I wanted," he explains.

Ken made some changes.

"My dad had a really good line of equipment," Ken explains. "A few years after I got my feet on the ground, I sold the equipment and bought more cows."

When Ken and Jackie started farming, they were milking 50 cows in a barn with 26 stanchions.  They gradually began expanding their dairy herd, adding about 30 cows per year out of cash flow. Soon Ken made a couple more radical decisions. He decided to sell the heifers and use bulls to breed his Holstein cows.

"I'll be the first to concede it's not the best method to get cows bred, but it's the easiest method," he explains. "I couldn't catch cows in heat."

He used money from selling cull cows and heifer calves to buy more cows and continued increasing their herd size.

"The return on investment with heifers is not good," he says. "If you take that money and buy a heifer you have to wait two years to get a return. With cows the return is immediate."

Soon the couple converted the stanchion barn into a double-six flat-barn milking parlor. In 2003, they built a double-eight pit parlor. By then they were milking 300 cows.

"We added on to a freestall barn or built a new building 13 times since we started farming," Ken says.

Expanding their dairy herd allowed Ken to hire help so he could watch his kids play sports when they were growing up.

Today, the Feltzes milk 600 cows and raise crops on 700 irrigated acres. Their cows milk an average of 108 pounds per cow and their somatic cell count which averaged 73,000 last year.

Best of all, Ken and Jackie are debt free.

"I don't think debt is bad," Ken says. "We were deeply in debt when we bought the farm from my parents. I made the choice to get off the hamster wheel."

Ken credits their decision to expand slowly but steadily over the years for being able to pay off their debt.
"We have taken on debt, but we have always paid it off," he says. "And we don't have the biggest, shiniest, newest equipment either. We have a well maintained line of equipment but it's not new."

The Feltzes use 30 bulls to breed their cows. They buy young Holstein bulls and feed them leftover feed from the cows.

"We rotate them every two weeks," Ken says. "Safety is extremely important with bulls. We don't tolerate any aggressive behavior. If a bull starts acting aggressive, we get rid of him right away."

The bulls have provided an additional revenue stream.

"We buy them young and nearly double our money on them by the time we sell them," Ken says.

In addition to their dairy herd, the Feltzes also raise 150 beef steers with a neighbor

A neat and clean operation, the family co-hosted Wisconsin Farm Technology Days at their farm in 2014. They held the Portage County June Dairy Breakfast on their farm in 1998 and again in 2014.  They also open their farm up for school children and day cares to tour.

Ken and Jackie's oldest son Jared returned to the farm in 2013 after graduating from University of Wisconsin-River Falls with a bachelor's degree in agribusiness and a minor in Spanish.

"Jared is the herdsperson and he takes care of the cows and employees," Ken says. Jared and his wife Jenna welcomed their first child Grace in December.

In addition to family members, 10 employees work full time on the farm. Kelly Sankey is in charge of crops.

"He is 31 years old and has worked for us since he was 15," Ken says. "Kelly also does a lot of feeding. His mechanical abilities are his greatest strength. He's the right hand man -- he's not just another employee."

Ken and Jackie's youngest son Jake is a sophomore at UW-River Falls where he is majoring in ag business.

"Jake wants to come back to the farm after he graduates," Ken says.

This spring, the Feltzes will break ground for a 100-cow freestall barn equipped with two robotic milkers. "We'll take 100 of our cows and put them in that barn and repopulate the other barns," Ken says.

They also plan to build a retail store on the farm this spring.

"We are planning to sell ice cream and cheese," Ken says.

Last year Ken and Jackie incorporated the farm. Ken is the fifth generation of his family to own and operate the farm. His sons are the sixth generation. Ken and Jackie are proud that they have built a successful farm that their sons can take over.

"To have this business and have my sons follow in my footsteps is very gratifying," Ken says.

About the Author(s)

Fran O'Leary

Wisconsin Agriculturist Senior Editor, Farm Progress

Fran O’Leary lives in Brandon, Wis., and has been editor of Wisconsin Agriculturist since 2003. Even though O’Leary was born and raised on a farm in Illinois, she has spent most of her life in Wisconsin. She moved to the state when she was 18 years old and later graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater with a bachelor's degree in journalism.

Before becoming editor of Wisconsin Agriculturist, O’Leary worked at Johnson Hill Press in Fort Atkinson as a writer and editor of farm business publications and at the Janesville Gazette in Janesville as farm editor and a feature writer. Later, she signed on as a public relations associate at Bader Rutter in Brookfield, and served as managing editor and farm editor at The Reporter, a daily newspaper in Fond du Lac.

She has been a member of American Agricultural Editors’ Association (now Agricultural Communicators Network) since 2003.

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