Driving away from their dairy farm in Jefferson County on their way to visit one of their grown daughters, Daphne and Lloyd Holterman can see what got them here.
“You don’t get to choose what kind of farmer you are. The land chooses for you,” Daphne Holterman says. “You do get to choose how to farm.”
They began farming together just south of Watertown shortly after they both graduated from UW-Madison (Daphne earned her BS in Life Sciences Communication in 1981 and Lloyd studied Dairy Science, earning his BS in 1980). Newly married, they had a dairy farm with 75 cows.
They set out by writing a mission statement for their business, one that promised to balance profitability and production with care for their animals and stewardship of the land.
“I think you learn more through adversity than through good times,” Daphne says. “We learned a lot of things.”
Their first investment was a $5,000 piece of equipment, and they grew carefully. Lloyd says they relied not just on their education, but also on the research happening on the University of Wisconsin–Madison campus. Two discoveries from the Department of Dairy Science made a huge difference. First, they broke with tradition and followed the results of a study that showed feeding cows less phosphorous would be beneficial. It saved money and it also made the manure carry less of a nutrient that threatens watersheds. Second, they changed how corn gets shredded into feed, using an invention that more finely grinds kernels while leaving stalks and cobs in longer fibers. The process allows cows to digest more nutrition per pound. They make more milk, have better health, and require less corn, which in turn reduces energy needs and other costs.
“These UW–Madison researchers are worth their weight in gold to the state of Wisconsin,” Lloyd says.
Lloyd and Daphne are staying true to that mission statement they wrote together at their kitchen table all those years ago. And their 75-cow farm grew. Now they have 940.
This profile is part of the Wisconsin Foundation and Alumni Association’s Boundless Together series of stories.