The Kreagers milk Jersey cows for their high components and feed efficiency. 
The Kreagers milk Jersey cows for their high components and feed efficiency. PHOTO BY DANIELLE NAUMAN
    MARATHON CITY, Wis. – Hard work and determination mixed with a healthy dose of doing what you can when you can with what you have are the primary ingredients in the recipe of success for first-generation dairy farmers Keith and Juli Kreager.
    Today, along with their sons Landon, 20, and Mavrick, 18, the Kreagers are milking 80 cows on the dairy farm they have built.
    Keith grew up working on neighboring dairy farms and found dairy farming to be his calling. He began milking cows in 1998 at the age of 19 while he and Juli were dating. He started milking about 35 cows in a tiestall barn using floor buckets with a step-saver for several years before putting in a pipeline and adding an additional 10 to 15 switch cows.
    “When we bought this place there was an old hip-roof barn,” Keith said. “It was in such bad shape you could almost fall through the haymow floor. We said that’s enough and tore that down. We never missed a milking; we milked under the stars while we built a new barn.”
    The Kreagers built a single-story, 35-stall tiestall barn in 2006, and after several years, they realized they needed to move to the next step.
    “Juli was working off the farm, I was driving school bus, and we were finding the cash-flow just was not there,” Keith said. “The cost of living was going up, and to keep up with inflation, we knew we needed to do something.”
    Keith purchased a used parlor, and in 2013, the Kreagers made the next leap forward in growing their family dairy farm. They converted half of their tiestall barn into a double-8 swing parlor, which Juli requested be built at counter-top height, to be a comfortable level for her to milk at. The other half of the tiestall barn was converted into a calf barn.
    The Kreagers housed their cows in a three-sided barn on a bedded pack and were making plans to build on to the other half of that barn when they fell victim to a tornado in 2017 that severely damaged the original structure.
    “We were having trouble figuring out how to move forward with that,” Keith said. “The posts kept on falling in the wrong spots for where the stalls needed to be.”
    Instead of being devastated when the tornado struck, the Kreagers relied on their faith which has served them well throughout their marriage.
    “We took that as a message from the good Lord that we just needed to tear it down and start from scratch, to make a new building that would work as we needed it to,” Juli said.
    In building the new structure, the Kreagers adhered to their philosophy of doing what they could when they could. They outfitted the barn with automatic curtains to help with ventilation and climate control. They also chose to install free stalls versus staying with a bedded pack.
    The Kreagers have been pleased with the new freestall barn, citing increased cow comfort and less feed waste from indoor feeding as the primary benefits.
    “The other half of that building paid for itself real quick,” Keith said.
    In 2019, the Kreagers were ready to go to work on the next piece of their recipe: upgrading their calf-raising facility. When they built the parlor, they gutted and put gravel in the other half of the tiestall barn, using that as their calf barn. Their calf-raising results were not meeting their expectations, so they decided to make some changes.
    They cleaned out the barn and started from the bottom, pouring concrete that slopes toward a center drain, allowing for easy cleaning. The calves are housed in individual Calf-Tel pens, and the barn is ventilated with a variable-speed Crystal Creek Air System, using tubes with flaps and exhaust fans.
    “Since redoing the calf barn, we have only lost three calves,” Keith said. “Once again, doing something right pays for itself in short order.”
    At the same time, the Kreagers added a pasteurizer to better the consistency in their calf-feeding program. Keith said every calf gets the same amount of milk at the same temperature every feeding.
    “We used to feed milk replacer several years ago, but we didn’t have good luck with that,” Juli said. “Then we switched to unpasteurized whole milk, and our results were better but not ideal. What we are doing now, this is ideal.”
    Always looking forward to making their farm operate more efficiently, the Kreagers ventured into the world of robotic automation with the purchase of a Lely Juno feed pusher which they feel allows them to make the best use of their available bunk space. Believers in continuing to move forward, they have been researching how they could best incorporate robotic milking on their farm in the future.
    “We’ve got to make changes to keep getting better,” Keith said. “Every time we make a change, we want to incorporate newer technology.”
    Neither Keith nor Juli are ready to close their dairy farming careers just yet, but they do have other things they would like to pursue in life. They are hoping the increase in automation on the farm, along with the potential of transitioning to their sons, will allow them the time to begin those adventures.
    “We have a true family farm,” Keith said. “It is just the four of us here. We are trying to build this up so our boys can take over if that is what they decide they want to do.”