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Weilands welcome next generation to farm

These 2023 Wisconsin Master Agriculturists from Columbus milk 650 Holstein cows.

March 10, 2023

6 Min Read
Roger and Tammy Weiland with sons Brady, Brett and Bryce, and dairy cows in the background
DAIRY FAMILY: Roger and Tammy Weiland milk 650 Holstein cows on their farm near Columbus, Wis. Their sons are Brady (left), Brett and Bryce. Courtesy of Weiland family

by Jim Massey

Roger and Tammy Weiland didn’t know if any of their sons would be interested in coming back to work with them on their Columbia County, Wis., dairy farm, and they had no intention of pressuring them to do so.

So, the couple built their dairy operation over the years to suit their needs — buying feed rather than cropping themselves, and hiring employees to give themselves more time to spend with family and to volunteer in the community and dairy industry.

It was a bonus when sons Brady and Brett decided to farm in partnership with their parents. Their third son, Bryce, who is getting married in April, works in Madison, Wis., in industrial maintenance and lends a hand on the farm when needed.

Roger, the fourth generation on the farm that has been in his family for nearly 100 years, and his wife, Tammy, feel fortunate to have survived and thrived in the dairy industry.

“I feel very blessed to be where I’m at,” he says. “We just work together as a family. You surround yourself with good people. It was always my dream to build a really good herd, and I think we’ve done that.”

“There were a lot of times when Roger and I would look at each other and say, ‘We’re not going to survive this,’” Tammy says. “Only by the grace of God are we where we are today.”

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Tammy says their mission has always been to prioritize God, family and farm, in that order, and living out those priorities has helped them accomplish many goals.

The Weilands milk about 650 cows on 210 acres on the edge of Columbus. Brady and Brett are buying into the operation and recently purchased a second farm about 4 miles away, where an additional 700 cows are milked. Between the two farms, the family has 18 employees.

Roger and Tammy became partners with Roger’s parents and uncle in 1990 and then purchased the farm from them in 1995. When they bought the farm, about 100 cows were being milked in a 50-cow stanchion barn.

They expanded to 200 cows and built a double-six herringbone milking parlor in 1996 — a parlor that is still in use 27 years later. Four- and three-row freestall barns were built in 1996 and 2000, and the three-row barn has been added onto twice since then to accommodate the growing herd.

Roger says they could have been more aggressive and built more modern facilities over the years, but having fancy things hasn’t been a priority.

“Because we wanted to keep our life balance and our quality of life, we made the farm work for us rather than us working for the farm,” he says.

They focus on genetics, quality feed and cow comfort with their dairy herd. They contract with a grower to raise their heifers from 6 months old.

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“Roger and I never built our business for the next generation — we built it to suit us at the time,” Tammy says.

Brady, 29, received training as a diesel and heavy-duty technician at Madison College and attended the University of Wisconsin-Madison Farm and Industry Short Course before deciding to come back to the farm in 2015. Brett, 25, attended FISC and then transferred to UW-Platteville, where he earned a degree in agricultural business with a minor in commodity marketing. He became a farm partner in 2020.

As Roger and Tammy move closer to retirement, Brady has taken over as general manager of Weiland Dairy — he describes his job as “managing anything that walks,” including people and cows — while Brett is operations manager. Roger and Tammy help out where needed. The brothers co-own the family’s second farm, High Gear Holsteins, with Brett’s wife, Emiley.

The family has found success through working with an advisory team consisting of their veterinarian, nutritionist, lender, accountant and two business consultants. That team meets quarterly.

The family management team meets weekly, and Roger, Tammy, Brady and Brett meet monthly with their employees.

“We realize that together, we’re stronger than we would be apart,” Brady says. “Communication is so important, whether it’s family or it’s neighbors.”

Overcoming tragedy

Like most farmers, the Weilands have faced challenges during their farming careers, but none greater than when Roger’s father was killed in a tractor accident on the farm in 2000 and when their barn burned in 2007.

“That was the toughest day of my life,” Roger says of his father’s death.

A space heater that was being used during frigid February temperatures apparently emitted a spark that set their barn ablaze in 2007. There were no injuries to animals or people, and they were miraculously back milking cows in their parlor a week later.

“Neighbors, friends and area businesses worked 24/7 for seven days and got us back up and running,” Tammy recalls. “It was a very humbling experience. Roger and I were in shock, but meanwhile, there were trailers lined up and down the road with area farmers saying, ‘Just tell us where to take your cows.’ So many people came out of the woodwork to help.”

Roger says it’s those relationships that have made his life on the farm enjoyable.

“I’ve always enjoyed cows and the people I get the pleasure of working with,” he says. “We’ve had a lot of good employees, and we’ve met many great people over the years. Having an opportunity to hang out with like-minded people, like in the [Professional Dairy Producers] — people who are positive and not the gloom-and-doom crowd — that has always been rewarding.”

Roger and Tammy have been working to transition the farm to their sons during the past seven years, developing a plan to transfer ownership in an equitable fashion.

“I feared there would be a day when I would see the cows get auctioned off,” Roger says. “I was really surprised and glad when Brady and Brett came back. I’m very thankful.”

Brady says getting the transition process started wasn’t easy, but they have made good progress in recent years.

“I can see the light at the end of the tunnel, and we finally understand where we’re going and how we’re going to get there,” he says.

The Weilands say they wouldn’t have been successful without an excellent group of employees, some who have been with the family for more than 20 years.

“We try to treat them like family, because we are all one big family,” Tammy says. Brady adds they usually have a waiting list of people wanting to work for them.

Brady and Brett have brought cropping back into the operation at High Gear Holsteins, which they say is a way to tweak and grow the family business. They now supply some of the feed for both farms. The rest is purchased from neighbors.

Massey writes from Barneveld, Wis.

Master Agriculturists at a glance

Roger and Tammy Weiland
Ages: 63 and 56
Location: Columbus, Columbia County
Farming enterprises: Dairy
Size of farm: 210 owned acres, 650 Holstein cows
Family: Sons Brady, Brett (Emiley), Bryce (Mikayla)

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