Got milk? Weg's Blue & White Dairy marks steady growth; to reach 1,000-cow herd this summer
BIGELOW -- Have you ever wondered when you pour milk over your cereal in the morning or enjoy a tall glass of moo juice for dinner just where that milk is coming from?
Well, chances are if your jug of milk has a Land O'Lakes or Dean Foods label, it could be from a herd of cows raised on a family farm near Bigelow.
There, Michael and Clay Weg own and operate Weg's Blue & White Dairy, working alongside their brother, Gene. The three men grew up milking cows, feeding calves and crop farming with their parents, Gerald and Anita. They also have a sister, Melinda, who now lives in Sioux Falls, S.D., with her husband, Curt, and their three sons, Jordan, Jerred and Austin.
Growing up on the farm and experiencing years of hard work, the Weg brothers are well versed in the dairy business -- so much so that none of the boys thought about careers outside of agriculture. While Gene worked for a time at an area elevator, the boys stayed close to their roots to continue the family business after their high school days were over.
Much has changed in the family operation since their grandparents, Dick and Dena Weg, first settled on land in Section 24 of Ransom Township. Back then, farmers had a little bit of everything -- a few cows, some pigs and chickens.
Dick and Dena's sons, Gerald and Pete, both had their start in farming with help from their parents. Pete lived in one of two houses on the farm -- their parents lived in the larger house -- and Gerald settled on a farm one-half mile down the road.
"Dad farmed with grandpa on a half-section, and then Dad bought a quarter," said Michael.
On his own farm, Gerald decided to focus on one livestock entity -- dairying. He installed 31 stanchions in his barn and began to expand the operation from a few head to 30 cows.
"He put up a couple silos and then a free-stall barn in 1980," said Michael. That's when the operation doubled to 60 cows.
It had grown to a 70-cow herd by the time Michael and his wife, Deb, were married. The young couple settled in his grandparents' house and, in 1990, Gerald purchased the acreage and quarter-section from his parents.
After both Gene and Clay graduated from high school, they also wanted to come back to farm. It became apparent an expansion was necessary.
"In 1994, we had this acreage (Gerald's farm), and we realized three families weren't going to live on milking 70 cows," said Michael.
"We never milked here (on Pete's place), but we raised heifers on this farm," added Clay.
So, still using the 31-stanchion setup on their dad's farm, the brothers purchased approximately 160 heifers with plans to eventually grow the dairy to a 300-cow operation. It was then that Michael and Clay developed their partnership.
Building plans, however, weren't progressing as quickly as the cow herd. By the time the new barn was completed on their grandparents' farm, the Wegs had 180 cows to milk twice a day in those 31 stanchions back at their mom and dad's place.
Construction on their 300-head free-stall barn with a double-8 parlor began in the summer of 1995, and the cows were moved over as soon as the building was completed that December.
"We were increasing numbers, so when we came to this barn, we could partially fill it," said Clay.
During the extra year it took to get the new barn built, the family had to erect a greenhouse to put the new cows in.
"We were looking forward (to the move)," said Clay. "We were so cramped for space."
By the time the cows were moved to their new home on Dec. 6, 1995, the two homes on Dick and Dena Weg's acreage were occupied by Michael's family and Clay and his wife, Dannielle.
"That worked really well when we started the dairy -- we were both close by," said Clay.
"We never had any hired help," added Michael.
That changed six months later, however, as another 100 cows were added to bring the barn almost to capacity.
That was about the time Gene returned to the family operation. He began working with the calves and then moved to feeding chores when their dad had knee surgery.
By 1999 Weg's Blue & White Dairy was milking 350 cows three times a day and bursting at the seams for space. An 84-foot addition was built onto the existing free-stall barn to allow for about 100 more cows that year.
The expansion continued in 2003, when a second free-stall barn was added behind the first free stall-barn, making room for an 800-cow herd. At the same time the second barn was built, the parlor was converted from a double-8 to double-12, and another bulk tank was also added to the operation.
In 2007, a third barn was constructed as a hospital parlor specifically for housing and milking fresh, sick and maternity cows. The expansion created room for another 100 cows to be added.
Now, in 2008, the Wegs are planning to expand again. This summer, an addition will be constructed on the barn that was built in 2003, and another 100 cows are going to be added. The herd consists of Holstein and Jersey-cross cows.
"Then we'll be up to 1,000 cows," said Michael.
With the expansion, Weg's Blue & White Dairy will be one of the largest milking operations in Nobles County.
The duties of the operation are divided between the three Weg brothers, with Michael concentrating his efforts on the financial side of the business -- doing the book work, tax work and payroll for the farm's 14 employees.
Clay primarily works with the management of the cow herd, overseeing herd health and production, while Gene continues to handle the feeding portion of the business.
"Feeding is a seven-day-aweek job and four to five hours a day," said Clay
Then, from mid-spring to late fall, there's raising the crops, chopping hay, chopping corn and combining corn. The Wegs grow corn and hay on about 1,400 acres.
Surrounded by support
The dairy farmer's job never ends, but with the three Weg brothers working alongside their employees, the business doesn't keep their families tied down as much as it once did. Now, they can juggle workloads and enjoy an evening out, take in a basketball game or go on a vacation.
"We couldn't do it without the hired help," said Clay. "You have to have good hired help to be able to get away and do the cropping."
And along with their employees, the men can always count on their dad to lend a hand. Gerald does a lot of the errands for the dairy and helps with field work as well.
"When he's home, he comes out five days a week," said Michael.
The Weg brothers also appreciate the support of their wives. During their initial expansion project, Michael said he and Clay would have had difficulty getting the project off the ground without the extra income from their spouses. Michael's wife, Deb, is regional sales manager for Farley's and Sathers. They have two children, Madison, 15, and Mitchael, 13. Clay's wife, Dannielle, is the accounts receivable-collections coordinator for Bedford Industries, and they have three daughters, Anneke, 8, Bailey, 6, and Ellie, 3. Gene's wife, Jennifer, is director of patient care services at Worthington Regional Hospital. They have two sons, Jacob, 11, and Nicholas, 7.
With six children between the three brothers, one has to wonder if the family dairy business will be carried on by future generations.
"Our hope is that one of our kids or some of our kids want to take it over," said Michael.
"I think it makes Dad proud that his boys carried on the dairy," added Clay.
Outside of their dairy and farming work, the Weg families are all involved in the Christian Reformed Church in Worthington, and are supporters of Worthington Christian School and Southwest Christian High School in Edgerton. The brothers are also active in a golf league during the summer.