Julie and Robert Kiehnau (from left) and Andy Kaczmarek (pictured with grandkids – (from left) Kellyn, Sam and Connor)
Maple Tree Dairy LLC
Egg Harbor, Wisconsin
Door County
75-80 milking and dry cows

How did you get into farming? We all grew up on family farms (Julie and Andy on their parents’ farm in Fish Creek, and Rob on his family’s farm in Egg Harbor). Rob, Julie and their two children, Kirsten and Jared, worked with Rob’s parents for several years. In 1993, they took over his family farm from his parents. Andy worked with them side by side for many years, and together they formed Maple Tree Dairy LLC in 2014.

What are your thoughts and concerns about the dairy industry for the next year? Things are volatile and unprecedented in our world. Looking at costs for fuel, fertilizer, feed and maintenance parts for equipment and facility maintenance will certainly make things challenging. At the same time, milk, beef and grain prices are up. Hopefully, margins between the two will offer sustainable profits to keep small farms operating.

What is a recent change you made on your farm and the reason for it? In 2014, we remodeled our existing tiestall barn and installed a Lely Astronaut A4 robotic milking system. This allowed us to continue dairy farming without hiring outside help and granted us more flexibility with our schedule. During cropping season especially, it is nice not to be chained to the twice-a-day starting time for milking. It also allowed us to add a few more cows, and with the increased third milking average, it helped to increase income. Plus, the cows are happy; each able to milk, eat or rest as they want. We also began transitioning to no till a few years ago, and this year will mark our second year of 100% no-till planting along with an appreciable amount of cover crops. This saves us a lot of time in the spring along with it being a much smarter move to preserve our precious topsoil.

Tell us about a skill you possess that makes dairy farming easier for you. Being able to be jacks-of-all-trades and do many of our own repairs on equipment and buildings helps us to be more successful. The less you have to pick up the phone and call for help, the better off you are.

What is the best decision you have made on your farm? There have been many seemingly little things over the years that cumulatively have created good change on our farm. Buying a round baler years back instead of making small square bales is one example. Also, adding more feed storage with silos allowed us to make better quality feed easier than dry hay. But, installing the robotic milker was the best decision we have made overall with benefits financially and personally. The basic footprint of our farm stayed the same because we could utilize the existing barn. Feed and manure storage didn’t have to change because we did not add but a few animals, and we increased the amount of milk sold without adding employees.

What are three things on the farm that you cannot live without? The robotic milking system, the mixer and well-maintained, updated machinery. The robot allows us time flexibility, is easier on our bodies physically and allows us to financially optimize our herd without changing our farm size. The mixer made feeding animals so much easier and complete. And, keeping our tools and machinery updated and maintained saves us time and money.

What strategies do you use to withstand the volatile milk prices? We continue to work diligently to be as efficient as possible in all areas of the farm. Numerous little positives all contribute to success. We also focus on making high-quality feed to maximize milk and components.

How do you maintain family relationships while also working together? Being able to communicate and value each other’s opinions and strengths helps to keep things running smoothly. We all work together well and have the same goals, so decision making is easier.

What do you enjoy most about dairy farming? The rural environment and the support of other farmers and good neighbors. Also, no two days are alike. There is a variety of work whether working on crops, equipment or with cows. It creates a good balance so you aren’t always in the barn or always in the tractor. Our farmland base and cow numbers are a nice, workable size for our family.

What advice would you give other dairy farmers? People will always give suggestions, but you have to put the time in and persevere to see what is actually going to work best for your farm. Have patience and faith through the rough days, and always look for ways to improve your methods. We are all reading and learning constantly about ways we can improve. Change isn’t always easy, but you need to be open to it in areas that need improvement. Pay attention for better ideas. Also, you don’t have to be the first to try new technology; just don’t be the last.

What are your plans for your dairy in the next year and five years? We don’t have any major plan for changes for the next year. Certainly, we have no expansion plans for our herd but mainly to update a couple pieces of older equipment. In the next five years, our goal is to maintain quality milk production and to keep our facilities and equipment operating as efficiently as possible. We will upgrade some equipment, and we hope to explore building a bigger shop at some point to be able to work on equipment more easily during winter months.

How do you or your family like to spend time when you are not doing chores? We are blessed to be surrounded by nature and water in Door County. When we aren’t working on the farm, we enjoy spending time with our family hiking, biking, kayaking, swimming or snowmobiling. Andy enjoys sports as well as hunting and time in the woods.