After graduating seventh in his class at Laconia High School in 1979 and from University of Wisconsin Farm and Industry Short Course in 1981, Jim Rickert returned home to farm with his parents, Don and Lila Rickert, on the family’s farm near Eldorado in Fond du Lac County.
The Rickerts were milking 125 cows and farming 550 acres. Don and Lila decided to incorporate their operation that year to give Jim and his brothers, Greg and Ken, an opportunity to accumulate shares in the farm, known as Rickland Farms Inc.
In 1982, Jim married Kelly Schwartz. “It’s been a blessing for me to marry someone who did not grow up on a farm but understands farming and has worked by my side for 34 years,” Jim says.
Following the farm crisis in the 1980s, the Rickerts bought 600 acres as neighbors decided to sell their farms. They also expanded the dairy. In 1995, they added a freestall barn for 74 cows and began milking 185 cows in the stanchion barn.
In 2000, Jim and Greg wanted to expand the dairy further and built a new freestall setup. Their older brother, Ken, decided it was time to pursue a new career and left the farm. That year, a freestall barn, milking parlor and special-needs barn were built across the road from the home farm, and Jim and Greg formed a limited liability company on the dairy called Rickert Bros. LLC.
Jim and Kelly and Greg and his wife, Laura, are the third generation of Rickerts to farm on the family farm. Don’s parents, Eldor and Edna, purchased the farm in 1936 and were the first generation. Don and Lila started farming there in 1952 and bought the farm from his parents in 1968.
Today, the Rickerts own 1,700 acres, rent an additional 300 acres, milk 1,050 Holstein cows and raise 900 heifers. They also raise 35 registered Holstein bulls for breeding to sell to area farmers, and seven to eight bulls which they sell to AI firms each year. Since 2000, they have been milking three times a day.
The Rickerts’ herd average has risen from 25,977 pounds of milk, 969 pounds of butterfat and 769 pounds of protein 10 years ago to 31,200 pounds of milk, 1,220 pounds of butterfat and 940 pounds of protein today. They’ve earned the Progressive Genetics Herd Award for 22 years.
Progressive dairy farmers
The Rickerts use the latest technology to help improve their herd. They have been involved in embryo transfer work on their farm for the past 35 years. And they are excited to be one of the first herds involved with genomics and in vitro ET work.
“Our program here usually involves one to two donors per week. About 90% of the donors are virgin heifers,” Jim explains. “We use genomics to help select for the kind of cow that will perform under modern large-herd conditions.”
The demand for high genomic progenies has brought visitors to their farm from all over the country and the world.
Jim is in charge of caring for post-fresh cows, administering veterinary treatments, assisting with births and raising the calves. In addition to milking three times a day, they transitioned to feeding calves three times a day. Jim handles all the recordkeeping for registrations and classifying. Greg serves as CEO, managing the farm and employees. Their herdsman, Rick Hartman, has been an integral part of their team for 16 years.
Don, 83, is a 2007 Master Agriculturist and continues to keep all the farm’s financial records up to date using modern technology. Every two weeks, he handles the payroll for 14 employees and five family members, including Jim and Kelly’s son, Andrew, 33, who is the fourth generation to farm on the family farm.
Andrew is the farm feed manager and the third generation to graduate from UW-Madison’s Farm and Industry Short Course. He also maintains bunker silos daily and packs all bunker silos. Andrew and his wife, Shannon, have three children — Miles, 7; Emma, 4; and Jonah, 3 — and are expecting their fourth child in May.
“We are so grateful Andrew and Shannon are farming with us. Andrew has always had a passion for farming,” Jim says. “In 2004, he was Wisconsin Outstanding Holstein Boy, along with being named one of six National Distinguished Junior Members.”
Another member of the fourth generation involved in the farm is Andy DeVries, who is married to Greg’s daughter Jenna. Andy is responsible for machinery maintenance and fieldwork.
“Our family is excited to see our fifth generation developing a passion for farming,” Kelly says. Miles, Emma and Jonah, along with cousins Claire and Evan, always want to help Kelly and Jim feed calves. Claire and Evan belong to the Rickerts’ other son, David, and his wife, Kelsey.
The Rickerts have always been active in church, community and farm organizations. Since 2010, Jim has served on the Badgerland Financial board of directors. The Rickerts are members of the county, state and national Holstein associations.
Jim was on the Fond du Lac County Holstein board of directors for six years and served as president. Kelly is currently secretary. Jim also served six years on the state Holstein board and was president in 2010. He served six years for Fond du Lac DHIA and 12 years on the state DHIA board. Jim and Kelly co-chaired the National Junior Holstein Convention in 2008.
The Rickerts enjoy being involved at Redeemer Lutheran Church in Fond du Lac in a variety of ways. Jim has been a charter member and secretary of the Eldorado Lions Club for 35 years.
2017 Master Agriculturist
Location: Eldorado, Fond du Lac County
Farming enterprises: Holstein cows and bulls, crops
Size of farm: 2,000 owned and rented acres; 1,050 cows
Years farming: 40
Family: Wife, Kelly; son Andrew and daughter-in-law Shannon; son David and daughter-in-law Kelsey; and five grandchildren