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2024 Master Agriculturist from Fox Lake, Wis., milks 500 cows, raises beef and farms 2,000 acres.

Jim Massey

March 7, 2024

9 Min Read
the Schultz family
FAMILY FARM: Farming is a family affair for the Schultzes. Family members include (from left) Kari, Reece, Benson, Jodi, Nick, Keven, Cheryl, Rex, Katy, Londyn, Isabel and Eric. PHOTOS COURTESY OF SCHULTZ FAMILY

Keven Schultz has been farming near Fox Lake, Wis., for more than 50 years, and he admits it is all he has ever wanted to do.

“There was never any question,” he says of his youthful plan to be a farmer. “It’s all I’ve ever done, but yet I’ve never really had a job in my life.”

His nominators for the Master Agriculturist award couldn’t say enough about how Keven has helped young people get started in farming, beyond his two daughters and one son with whom he now farms.

“My passion has been trying to help young people along the way,” Keven says.

His father thrust him and a brother into primary farm roles when they were just out of high school, and in turn, he decided he would help others find their niche in ag.

Keven, wife Cheryl and their three children have a unique partnership when it comes to operating their family farm. They milk about 500 cows, raise beef animals and grow about 2,000 acres of crops to feed their animals and sell as cash crops. About half their income is derived from selling grain while the other half is from selling milk and meat.

Like many farming operations, Keven and Cheryl started small, with a half interest in 70 steers and 92 acres. The original 160-acre home farm was purchased by Keven’s great-grandfather in 1911. The farm grew over the years as the family bought neighboring farms that often included a full line of machinery and cattle. At one time, they were feeding steers on five farms.

The couple’s goal early in their farming career was to yield a 10% return on investment, but with a limited number of cattle and acres, that was difficult. They began looking for ways to expand their operation and improve efficiencies at the same time.

“Cheryl said, ‘You’re wearing yourself out running to these five farms, and we’re not really making that much money,’” Keven recalls. “It took me until almost noon to get all the cattle fed before I could get into the fields. She encouraged me to put up a livestock building on our main farm, and at the same time, we got into the dairy business.”

Aeriel photo of the Schultzes’ Dodge County, Wis., farm near Fox Lake

As their children joined them in the operation, the farm continued to evolve. The dairy herd was expanded from fewer than 100 cows in 1994 to its current size of 500, and various roles were carved out within the operation. The twice-daily milking was turned over to three women who take pride in their work and getting the most out of the cows.

The Schultzes treat their employees like family, and even adjusted the milking schedule so the team could get their children on the school bus before they began the morning milking and chores. 

“We don’t have employees, we have a farm family,” says Keven and Cheryl’s daughter Katy. “Their family is my family, and my family is their family. In the corporate world, they say there is a line between boss and employees becoming friends, but we are so far past that it’s not even funny. We genuinely care about each other.

“Our farm is successful because of the people we have here, not because of great cows or quality crops.”

As the number of people working on the farm became greater, quality of life for everyone involved became a priority, Keven says.

“One phrase I never paid much attention to until the kids got involved was ‘quality of life,’” Keven says. “We always worked until we got things done. But when it was time to buy a planter, [my daughter] Kari’s instructions to me were to buy the largest planter we thought we could utilize so we could leverage [my son] Nick’s time he was able to spend with his family.

“Quality of life doesn’t happen unless you do it intentionally.”

John Deere combine harvesting soybeans

Katy says their priority isn’t necessarily to get bigger, but instead to get better.

“We need to create efficiencies and make improvements that are better for our people,” she says.

In addition to milking 500 cows, raising 40 dairy-beef steers and farming 2,000 acres, the Schultzes own Trifecta Farms Family Market, where they sell frozen beef from their farm.

“Most sales are to our local community, who have gotten to know us through our social media platforms,” Keven says. “The market is located on the farm in a shed we fixed up next door to where Katy lives. She runs the market with our oldest grandson.”

Family roles

Perhaps the most unconventional aspect of the operation is the fact that the farm’s chief financial officer, the Schultzes’ oldest daughter, Kari Gribble, 47, can rarely be found on the farm. She has a full-time job at Edgewood College as associate vice president for institutional advancement and provides oversight of the farm remotely, via computer and telephone. She lives in Arena, Wis., with her husband, Eric, and their two children, Isabel and Benson.

The Schultzes’ other two children, Nick, 43, and Katy, 39, are actively involved in the farm and have formed a corporation with Kari to carry on the farming operation when their parents fully retire.

Nick is in charge of the cropping, machinery maintenance and grain marketing, while Katy manages the dairy operation and employees.

Nick is married to Jodi. They have two sons, Reece and Rex. Katy has a daughter, Londyn.

“Kari is the glue that holds this place together,” Katy says. “She is the key person for any planning we do. She’s the visionary in the family. We talk to her every single day.”

A pair of tractors pack haylage in a bunker silo at sunset

Agriculture advocate

Keven was elected to the Alcivia board of directors in 1998. Alcivia was formed when Countryside Cooperative and Landmark Services Cooperative merged in 2020. The cooperative had a gross revenue of $910 million during the past fiscal year.

Jim Lange, Alcivia board chairman, submitted a nomination letter on behalf of Keven, describing him as “a leader in the field.”

“He is a vocal advocate for agriculture, mentors young farmers, gives back to his local community, and generously shares his knowledge and expertise with others, all of which contributes significantly to the betterment of the farming community,” Lange wrote.

Dustin Brunn of Horicon, Wis., who worked for Keven before he joined his family’s farming operation, says he is often reminded of the lessons and skills he gained while working for the Schultzes. He recalls a time when he was working on a project that was taking longer than it should have, but Keven was patient and let him learn.

“Keven has a rare combination of patience to teach, willingness to learn and try new things, and to be a calm, steady force when times are difficult,” he says. “His ability to empower through support and appreciation of the work I would do meant everything to a young person getting started.”

Mitch Braskamp of Fox Lake, another award nominator, worked for Keven back in 1992. He says he was one of the young people who benefited from Keven’s mentorship.

“Shortly after I started working with Keven, he asked me what my long-term goals were,” Braskamp wrote. “The main goal I had for myself was to own my own farming operation. Keven would then help me do just that. His wealth of knowledge in the cattle industry, along with his caring and compassionate nature, makes him not only a great employer and farmer, but also a great friend.”

Roger Weiland, a dairy farmer from Columbus, Wis., and a 2023 Master Agriculturist, noted he has done business with Keven over the years and has admired how he has grown his business and brought his family into the operation.

“This family is always very positive,” Weiland wrote. “They have developed a great workplace culture for their family and employees, always striving to get better and not afraid to think out of the box.”

Katy says as she and Vita Plus dairy nutritionist Nick Uglow were putting the Master Agriculturist application together for her dad, they began to think about the number of people he has touched over the years.

“My parents hired dairy managers before that was even a thing in the industry,” she says. “While I love what my siblings and I are doing now on the farm, it’s because our parents taught us, let us make mistakes and gave us opportunities to grow.”

In transition

As the farm transitions to the next generation and his workload lessens, Keven says his favorite things to do on the farm are watching the births in the fresh-cow barn and driving the feed wagon every day.

“I love to see a newborn calf come to life,” he says. “It’s one of the biggest pleasures of my life. I also enjoy feeding our animals. It is a pleasure in the morning to drop that feed and see those cows get up and make their way to the bunk. They’re alert, eager to eat, and you can just see the herd health from the tractor seat.”

Keven and Cheryl Schultz

Master at a glance

Keven Schultz
Age: 69
Location: Fox Lake, Dodge County
Farming enterprises: Dairy cows and heifers, dairy beef, crops
Size of farm: 2,000 owned and rented acres, 500 dairy cows, 400 dairy heifers, 40 dairy-beef
Years farming: 51
Family: Wife Cheryl, daughters Kari (Eric Gribble) and Katy Schultz, son Nick (Jodi), and grandchildren Isabel, Benson, Reece, Rex and Londyn

Read more about:

Master Agriculturists

About the Author(s)

Jim Massey

Jim Massey writes from Barneveld, Wis.

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