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2024 Master Agriculturists from Waunakee, Wis., expanded their family farm to 2,000 acres and 1,800 cows.

Fran O'Leary, Wisconsin Agriculturist Editor

March 8, 2024

8 Min Read
The Maiersfamily
DREAM TEAM: The Maiers spend a lot of time with their cows. The family includes (from left) Scott, Daun, Lynn, Keith, Leo and Anika (in front), Gavin, Courtney holding Sullivan, and Patrick. FRAN O’LEARY

Linus and Ruth Ann Maier were first-generation farmers who worked side by side building their family farm throughout their entire married life. They began farming on shares near Waunakee, Wis., in 1966. In 1974, they bought the rented farmland and buildings. 

Their sons, Scott and Keith, have been actively farming since they were able to walk but officially came to work on the farm after graduating from Waunakee High School — Scott in 1983 and Keith in 1986. In 1998, Scott and his wife, Daun, and Keith and his wife, Lynn, confirmed their commitment to continuing the family farm by buying into the business and forming Maier Farms LLC.

“In 1992, we were milking 200 cows in a 68-stanchion barn and switching them three times each milking,” Scott recalls.

In 1998, they retrofitted a double-eight milking parlor in their old stanchion barn and built a 250-cow freestall barn. They expanded their herd in 2002 from 250 cows to 450 cows and began milking cows three times a day.

“That was a challenge,” Scott says. “We brought on more help.”

In 2006, the Maiers built a double-20 parallel parlor and increased their herd size to 850 cows. In 2014, they built a new maternity barn, added more freestalls, and increased their herd size to 1,183 cows.

Scott and Daun’s son, Patrick, spent most of his childhood either in the barn or on a tractor while learning all about farming from his father, grandfather and uncle. After graduating from Waunakee High School in 2007, Patrick attended the University of Wisconsin-Platteville. He graduated in 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in ag business and returned to the family farm.

In 2014, he married his high school sweetheart, Courtney. They joined the farm partnership in 2017.

Gavin, Keith, Patrick and Scott Maier

Nightmare ordeal

In October 2018, a routine slaughter inspection found a cull cow from the Maier herd tested positive for tuberculosis. The herd was immediately quarantined, and all cattle were tested. All bull calves were disposed of. The ordeal of having the herd tested and retested stretched on for three years.

Meanwhile, in early 2020 while they were dealing with TB in their herd, COVID-19 gripped the nation and the world, and Linus learned he had cancer. In July 2020, he contracted COVID and died while hospitalized. He was 83. Three months later, Ruth Ann died.

“She died of a broken heart,” Scott says.

It took until October 2021 before all the cattle on the farm tested negative for TB.

This level of catastrophe would be enough for many dairies to throw in the towel, but Maier Farms carried on. Because of their resiliency and team philosophy, they never lost sight of the farm’s vision to continue to improve.

Their ability to network allowed them to find solutions to weather the storm. A sense of humor and a strong sense of community helped them not only survive but also thrive despite all the adversity.

Scott and Keith agree that the hardest part of the whole experience was losing their parents in the middle of it.

“We are grateful for all of the support we received from our friends and family, our neighbors, our church, and our veterinarians during that time,” Scott says. “Their support made such a difference in our lives and helped us get through it.”

Their herd has been verified TB-free.

“But we want to be certified TB-free,” Scott explains. “So, all of our cattle are tested once a year for TB. We have two more annual tests to pass to be certified TB-free, and then we will be one of only a handful of certified TB-free herds in the state.”

“We wanted to go above and beyond and have our herd certified TB-free to create confidence among our team, the people who we do business with and our farm community,” Patrick adds.

Back on track

With the TB ordeal behind them, in 2022, the Maiers built another freestall barn. They expanded their herd to 1,600 cows and the number of acres they raise crops on to 2,000. They predominately raise corn and alfalfa. Two-thirds of their corn is grown for silage and one-third for grain. All their crops are fed to their cattle. They purchase additional corn to feed their herd.

Their current rolling herd average is 31,000 pounds of milk per cow, while their somatic cell count averages 100,000 or lower. They sell their milk to Grande Cheese Co. and have earned multiple Excellence in Milk Production and Quality Milk awards.

Maier Farms has 1,200 Holstein heifers that are custom-raised by heifer growers. Calves leave the farm at 1 to 2 days old and return when they are 20 to 22 months old, before calving.

“A lot of our herd is bred to AI beef semen to maximize the efficiency of our bull calves,” Patrick says. “Our virgin heifers and 75% of our first-lactation cows are bred to Holstein sexed semen. The dairy-beef calves are sold when they are a couple days old.”

tractor and implement merging alfalfa in a field

Scott says they expanded in 2022 because it made financial sense. “We also wanted to keep our team around and maximize our efficiencies — we’ve maxed out our double-20 milking parlor. Everyone can specialize in an area instead of being a jack-of-all-trades,” he explains.

Scott is in charge of the general farm facilities while Keith handles feeding, maintenance and fixing equipment. Patrick is in charge of the cows and working with their 14 full-time employees and 12 part-time and seasonal employees.

“Our farm’s success rests on the shoulders of our team,” Patrick says. “Everyone works hard to create a team atmosphere by simply treating others as they would like to be treated. Continuous communication is key and allows the daily operations to flow smoothly.”

Patrick and Daun share the bookkeeping duties and financial records.

“When Scott and I were first married, Ruth Ann was doing the bookkeeping, and she showed me how to do it, and we did the bookkeeping together,” Daun says. “Now Patrick and I keep the financial records.”

Fieldwork is a group effort. “We do it all and we all work together,” Scott explains. “We don’t hire custom harvesters.”

Keith and Lynn’s son, Gavin, 20, works part time on the farm while attending nearby Madison College full time. He will graduate in May with an associate’s degree in ag mechanics. He plans to work on the farm full time.

Lynn manages logistics at a promotional agency in Verona, and Courtney works at Waunakee Remodeling as marketing director.

Always improving

Animal health is key at Maier Farms. They are committed to caring for their cows.

“We implement new ideas. We are constantly trying to improve,” Patrick says. “We use a lot of technology, from RFID wands to ultrasound machines. We focus on letting the cows be cows — we do not want to interfere with their normal routine. Our barns are mechanically ventilated to keep the climate consistent for the animals.”

The Maiers are also conservation-minded. They are founding members and serve on the board of directors for Yahara Pride Farms, Wisconsin’s first farmer-led watershed group. Their farm is a certified Yahara Pride farm. In the fall, they seed all their corn silage ground to cover crops. Annually, they incorporate low-disturbance manure injection and some no-till planting. The farm focuses on building soil and reducing erosion to maximize yield.

“Our cover crops and low-disturbance manure injection have helped us accomplish our goals,” Patrick notes.

 Leo and Gavin Maier on the farm near Waunakee standing next to a tractor

Community focus

The Maiers are members of a number of farm and community organizations. They are active members of St. John the Baptist Church and School in Waunakee, the National Farm Program and Professional Dairy Producers. Patrick served on several committees for PDP, and they are members of the Dairy Business Association and Wisconsin Farm Bureau. Patrick also served on the advisory committee for Select Sires, and Scott is a past representative in Washington, D.C., for the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives.

They have received awards such as the Wisconsin Farm Bureau Young Farmer and Agriculturist Award, the Dairy Cattle Reproduction Council Gold Award of Achievement and the National Catholic Rural Life Exemplary Award.

Master at a glance

Maier Farms LLC
Partners: Scott, 58; Daun, 58; Keith, 55; Lynn, 56; Patrick, 34; and Courtney, 35
Location: Waunakee, Dane County
Farming enterprises: Dairy cows and heifers, crops
Size of farm: 2,000 owned and rented acres; 1,600 Holstein cows; 1,200 Holstein heifers
Family: Scott and Daun, daughters Kayla (Tony Flint) and Abby (Zach Shriver), son Patrick (Courtney), and eight grandchildren: Anika, Leo and Sullivan Maier; Vince, Max, Gabe and Sylvia Flint; and Cecilia Shriver (and a baby due in May); Keith and Lynn, son Gavin

Read more about:

Master Agriculturists

About the Author(s)

Fran O'Leary

Wisconsin Agriculturist Editor

Even though Fran was born and raised on a farm in Illinois, she has spent most of her life in Wisconsin. She moved to the state when she was 18 years old and later graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater with a bachelor's degree in journalism.

Fran has 25 years of experience writing, editing and taking pictures. Before becoming editor of the Wisconsin Agriculturist in 2003, she worked at Johnson Hill Press in Fort Atkinson as a writer and editor of farm business publications and at the Janesville Gazette in Janesville as farm editor and feature writer. Later, she signed on as a public relations associate at Bader Rutter in Brookfield, and served as managing editor and farm editor at The Reporter, a daily newspaper in Fond du Lac.

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