When John Judd began farming with his father in January 1969, friends and neighbors told them they wouldn’t be able to make a go of it on their rolling 221-acre dairy farm in southwestern Dane County, Wis.
John recalls from comments more than 52 years ago that people said cattle will starve on this farm. “I said that to Dad at milking time that night, and he said to me, ‘We’ll just have to prove them wrong.’ End of subject. Not another word was said.
“We’re still trying to prove ’em wrong.”
The Judd farm has been successful all these years because of the family’s willingness to try new things until they find something that works. John says that mindset began when he was just 18 years old, fresh out of the University of Wisconsin-Madison Farm and Industry Short Course.
“I couldn’t get enough of it,” he says of information gleaned from the short course. “That was because I knew I would use it here. I have to give my dad a lot of credit for being open to my ideas when we were still farming on halves. I would ask him if we could fertilize, or do this or do that, and he said, ‘If you can afford it, I can afford it.’”
John is being honored as a 2021 Master Agriculturist. His wife, Joan, says it was a “nice surprise” that they were nominated for the award.
“It’s just an honor that some people think we’re deserving,” John says. “It’s always nice to be recognized by your peers.”
The Judds have been married nearly 50 years but have known each other since they were youngsters. They continue to provide the majority of the day-to-day labor on the farm, although they get part-time help from their two children and custom croppers.
Joan helps with milking, feeds the calves, drives a tractor when needed, and keeps up the lawn, flower beds and garden. She is also known for her cooking and baking.
Their young cattle — from weaning to a week before freshening — are housed in a bedded-pack open-front shed with fence-line feeding, while the milking herd is milked in a 65-stall tiestall barn. They milk between 40 and 60 cows, depending on the time of year.
The heifer lot is split into seven pens to separate the animals by age group.
“It works for us,” John says. “You can’t worry about how the neighbor does things. What you do might not work for them.”
“If you have 50 farmers, there are going to be 50 different ways of doing things,” Joan adds.
The farm consists of 216 owned acres (5 acres from the original 221 were sold for John’s brother’s house) and 10 rented acres. The crops are rotated between corn and alfalfa, divided into 53 fields.
John says it seems “somewhat crazy” that they have 53 fields on just over 200 acres of cropland, but that’s due to the contour strips that crisscross the rolling terrain.
“When we moved here, we had 32 cows and six heifers,” he recalls. “We could barely grow enough feed for those animals in 1969. Now we have 130 head on the same farm, and we almost always sell some corn at the end of the year.”
He credits the farm’s fertility program for helping boost crop yields exponentially over the years.
John often took farming advice from a friend and neighbor, Al Hanna, who farmed and ran a crop consulting and dairy nutritionist business. Hanna died last summer.
“Al and I had a lot of conversations on a lot of different things pertaining to farming,” John says. “He was our crop consultant, nutritionist and friend. He was a great guy.”
Hanna turned John on to vertical tillage, which John says has helped boost the farm’s crop yields.
“It disturbs the top 2 to 3 inches, cuts and sizes the residue, and loosens the ground,” John says of the vertical-tillage tool. “It has been a good machine for us because of all the manure we spread on our land.”
John has been a local school board member, on the DHI board and on the Dane County Holstein Association board. Joan was on the Wisconsin Holstein Association board of directors for six years, and has volunteered and now works part time at World Dairy Expo as an office assistant. She plans to help with Expo again in 2021.
La Follette Farm
The Judds farm on the childhood home farm of Robert Marion “Fighting Bob” La Follette. La Follette, a former governor and member of the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate, was born on the farm in 1855.
The Judds call their farm La Follette Farm and use the La Follette prefix for their registered Holsteins.
John says he has enjoyed farming all these years because of the constant challenge the occupation creates.
“Every day’s a challenge; every year’s a challenge,” he says. “There’s always something that you want to conquer. This year is no different.”
The Judds haven’t decided what their future holds as they near the end of their farming careers.
“We’re contemplating,” John says. “I can’t say right now what will happen.”
Joan adds that they are “in the thinking stage” when it comes to their future.
Their daughter, Laurie Breuch, is dairy cattle coordinator at World Dairy Expo, while their son, Andrew, is owner-operator of Judd’s Woodshop near Mount Horeb. Laurie and her husband, Willie, have two children, Megan and Zane; Andrew and his wife, Katey, have two children, Delaney and Finn.
Massey writes from his farm near Barneveld, Wis.