One of 11 children, Tom Sarbacker grew up on Fischerdale Farm near Paoli in Dane County, Wis. Tom learned much about farming from his dad, Joe, who was a 1993 Master Agriculturist. Now Tom is a 2018 Master Agriculturist.
After attending college for two years, Tom took a job in Franklin, Ky., at A&H Farm. He helped care for and develop a herd of top-notch registered Holsteins that included Maplesway Apollo Lorraine Excellent-95-4E. In 1979, he returned home to farm with his dad and brothers, and eventually a partnership was formed. A nearby farm was purchased in 1983 just north of Paoli, to where Tom and his wife, Vicki, moved.
Tom and Vicki raised four sons and a daughter there, and still live on and farm the 165 acres along the Sugar River. Tom’s father died in 2011, and the farm partnership was dissolved. Today, Tom and Vicki farm with their son Joe, 32, and his wife, Sarah.
Their farm is adjacent to one of Dane County’s largest conservation projects: the Falk Wells Sugar River Wildlife Area. Tom is involved with the Sugar River easement, which allows access and public fishing on the Sarbackers’ farm. He also allows the county to work on his farm to protect highly valuable land and water resources.
“It’s a beautiful farm and a beautiful area, but we are landlocked here,” Tom explains. Instead of focusing on what he can’t do — farm more acres and milk more cows — Tom focuses on what he can do. His top area of concern is building a herd of high-scoring, high-producing cows that can lead to more opportunities for marketing in the future.
“Our No. 1 priority is to breed better cattle,” Tom says.
Over the years, the Sarbackers have built a well-respected name in the dairy industry. The success of their breeding program has been demonstrated through exhibiting cattle at shows, herd classification, awards and milk production. The Sarbackers have always been passionate about exhibiting homebred cattle at local, district, state and national shows.
Tom remembers their first national show winner, Fischerdale Valiant Lillie. In 1983, she won her class at the Eastern National Holstein Show in Harrisburg, Pa., and placed third at World Dairy Expo. She also earned Junior All-American and Honorable Mention All-American as a junior yearling that year.
Also winning the Eastern National Holstein Show was Fischerdale Starbuck Licorish. She was the first of three homebred junior champions at the Wisconsin Junior State Fair. In 1991, Fischerdale Starbuck Monica was the sixth-place 4-year-old cow and was named grand champion of the junior show at World Dairy Expo. In 2010, Fischerdale Holsteins was nominated All-American Junior Best 3, and Fischerdale Damion Reality stood third in her class at World Dairy Expo and was nominated All-American as well.
Breeding high-scoring, high-producing cows is Tom’s goal. Since Fischerdale began, 115 cows have scored Excellent, with three cows at 94 points and 15 at 93 points. Currently, the Sarbackers’ breed age average is 110.3, with 19 cows scored Excellent, 36 Very Good, and 15 Good Plus; none are scored lower.
Tom has bred more than 50 cows that produced over 200,000 pounds of milk in their lifetime, with three surpassing 300,000 pounds of milk. Their cows maintain a rolling herd average of 25,771 pounds of milk with 908 pounds of butterfat and 750 pounds of protein on twice-a-day milking. Over the years, they have also earned many milk quality awards.
The Sarbackers raise all of their crops to feed their cattle. “Our focus is to be as efficient as possible using the acres that we farm,” Tom says. They grow corn for silage and high-moisture shell corn, while alfalfa is harvested as baled hay and haylage. They plant peas and oats as a cover crop with the alfalfa, and chop that for dry-cow and heifer feed.
In 2015, the Sarbackers purchased the Cow Manager system, which has been great for reproductive monitoring, Tom says. “Because we farm near the Sugar River, most of the year our cows do not go outside,” he says. “Since putting the system in place, we have a much clearer picture of cows that are in heat, and our timed breeding activities are therefore more precise.”
Over the years, Tom has been involved in many farm organizations and community activities. He served as president of the Dane County Holstein Breeders, dairy leader for the Paoli Fireballs 4-H Club, was a Dane County 4-H dairy judging coach, hosted the Wisconsin Holstein Barn Meeting, served as a Wisconsin State Fair dairy facilitator and chaperone, and hosted 4-H and collegiate dairy judging practices, and 4-H dairy fitting clinics at their farm. He is a member of the Town of Montrose Land Use Committee and Dane County Farm Bureau, a lifetime FFA Alumni member, and past treasurer of his parish council. The Sarbackers have hosted the Dane County Twilight Meeting at their farm, and Tom served as a Dane County Fair Board member and dairy superintendent.
Tom is proud that he has continued building on the success of the herd started by his father, Joe.
“Some of the things my dad taught me about farming include adapting to changes and new ways, using good business sense, not overextending financially, working to keep a good crop and using good genetics in breeding,” Tom says. This has been Tom’s philosophy, too, which he is proud to have passed on to his children.
While the Sarbackers are pleased with the progress they have made on the farm, they are most proud of being able to raise their family on the farm.
“Raising kids on the farm is priceless,” Tom says. “There’s no better place to raise a family. They’re all hardworking, well-educated and successful adults, and a lot of that comes from growing up on this farm.”