Brian Forrest worked on his father’s Wisconsin dairy farm while he was growing up. After graduating from Stratford High School, he majored in ag engineering at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls. He returned to his family’s farm after graduating in 1994. Two years later, he started buying the cows and machinery from his parents. In 2002, Forrest began buying the farm from his parents. In 2006, he expanded his herd to 90 cows, and by 2011, he was milking 130 cows.
“At that time, I was farming 600 owned and rented acres — mostly rented,” says Forrest, who is being honored as a 2021 Master Agriculturist.
That is when his neighbors, Ken Hein and Gary Ruegsegger, both 2010 Master Agriculturists, began talking to Forrest. Ruegsegger wanted to retire.
“After several conversations, on Jan. 1, 2012, we merged our farms,” Forrest says.
In 2013, the farm, known as Maple Ridge Dairy, purchased Hein’s cousins’ neighboring farm and 240 cows. Today, Maple Ridge Dairy farms 3,800 acres, milks 1,910 Holstein cows and raises 1,500 heifers. Cows are milked three times a day at two farms. Dry cows are housed at Forrest’s old farm.
“It’s challenging to put too many animals in one spot,” he explains. “We’ve been at this size for five years now. We are big believers in getting better, not just bigger.”
Forrest says Maple Ridge Dairy is focused on growing its employees and growing its equity.
“But if a neighbor is retiring and there is an opportunity to work with them like Ken and Gary worked with me, we will look at it,” he says. “We like being very locally owned. I would like to do this for other people.”
High milk production is important at Maple Ridge Dairy — the rolling herd average is 30,000 pounds of milk with 4.2% butterfat and 3.2% protein. But Forrest emphasizes producing high-quality milk. Somatic cell count has declined from 110,000 to less than 80,000 during the past few years. The National Mastitis Council recently recognized Maple Ridge Dairy as a platinum winner for high-quality milk.
Forrest attributes the consistently low somatic cell count to three main factors:
- more thorough and consistent milking preparation with the use of mechanical teat scrubbers
- more frequent maintenance of sand bedding in stalls
- using cow health records for breeding selection, not solely for improving milk production
Maple Ridge Dairy grows crops on 3,800 owned and rented acres. They grow alfalfa and grass mixes for haylage, corn for grain and silage, wheat for grain and straw, and soybeans. They pay special attention to managing water and minimizing soil runoff.
They currently no-till 800 acres of crops and plant small-grains cover crops on 500 to 600 acres.
“We fully believe in low-disturbance applications of manure,” Forrest explains. “We are doing it. It’s a win for us, and a win-win for the environment and for consumers, too.”
Partner Hein is pleased with Forrest’s farm management skills and the farm’s success since Forrest joined Maple Ridge Dairy.
“Brian is a great manager with great farm, family and community values,” Hein says. “Every aspect of the farm is managed at a high level with measured results — everything from raising calves to milking cows to creating the best cow comfort, producing great feed with minimal impact to the environment — all support creating a product this is high quality for the consumer.”
Forrest has also worked with the village of Stratford to help with its Department of Natural Resources permitting process. He met with consultants several times to work out land that was suitable to meet the trading agreement requirements and was willing to change some crop rotation plans to meet DNR requirements.
“We are extremely thankful to work with a cooperative individual who cared about the village’s needs,” says Keith Grell, Stratford village president. “It saved the village the costs of building new facilities to meet the new standards, which ultimately kept water rates from increasing in the village. This is a great example of rural agriculture and the urban community working together to ultimately benefit the environment.”
Forrest appreciates the opportunity Hein and Ruegsegger gave him, but he also is grateful for the vision Hein’s dad, Phil Hein, had when he started Maple Ridge Dairy. A 1983 Master Agriculturist, Phil died last February at age 92.
“Phil was a progressive farmer in the 1970s and 1980s,” Forrest says. “He set everything up for today.”
Forrest served on the Professional Dairy Producers board of directors for six years and was treasurer for three years. He also was a member of the Marathon County DHIA board of directors. He served as treasurer on the Stratford Area Chamber of Commerce and is still a member. He also serves on the Marshfield Clinic Research Institute Oversight Board, which oversees research activities. He is involved in many activities with the National Farm Medicine Center, including conducting research, hosting farm tours and speaking to groups.
In addition to the many hats he wears at the farm, Forrest exhibited his selflessness in July 2019 when he served as a living liver donor for his first cousin Richard Gillete. The procedure required a complex surgery, and Forrest’s recuperation took 12 weeks.
He and his wife, Elaine, are active in community activities as well, including Stratford Community Days and Christmas in the Park. Elaine led the revitalization of a playground in Stratford, which involved fundraising, construction and overall project management.
The Forrests have five children: Kylie, Max and Brooks Vanderhoof, and Lucas and Violet Forrest.