In the 48 years since they started farming near Brooklyn, Wally and his wife, Donna, have developed a successful 260-acre Green County registered Holstein dairy farm.
When the couple was married in 1960 and started farming, they milked 28 grade Holstein cows and raised pigs on his parents' farm where Wally had grown up. His parents, Burgess and Lucille, helped the couple get started farming, first working for wages, then a percentage of the milk check and later selling them the farm on land contract.
When drought took a toll on crop yields, Wally decided to sell the hogs and focus on dairy, making quality his goal.
"My father liked raising hogs more than milking cows," Wally says. "I didn't have much luck with them. I loved the cows and I liked to milk cows."
Eager to improve the quality and type of his herd, Wally became intrigued with registered Holsteins. His Uncle Ivan C. Staley of Verona, who had a typey herd of registered Holsteins, gave Wally advice about the registered Holstein business.
"I enjoyed seeing his cows," Wally recalls. "He helped me along with learning the registered business. I concentrated on type."
Wally and Donna bought their first registered Holstein in 1960 and Bur-Wal Holsteins was born.
"That's how we got started," Wally says.
Wally admits it was tough going in those early years, but one project at a time, every building on the farm has been replaced or remodeled and several buildings added including a new heifer shed in 2004.
Besides selling milk, additional income comes from the sale of surplus heifers, bulls and embryos. They've exported embryos to Sweden, Japan, Netherlands, Italy and Korea. During the past five years, the Behnkes have leased or sold 20 bulls to various AI studs. They also sell a few breeding bulls each year to farmers from select cows in their herd.
The Behnke's three sons and two daughters have shown a lot of homebred registered Holsteins with the Bur-Wall prefix at local, district and state shows earning several Jr. All-American, All-Wisconsin and Jr. All-Wisconsin honors. They continue to provide dairy cattle for several non-farm youths to show as 4-H projects.
Their 60-cow herd averages 22,000 pounds of milk, and has a breed age average (BAA) of 110.7, ranking them among one of the top 100 registered Holstein herds in the nation for type.
They have a total of 15 cows scored Excellent, 38 Very Good and 2 Good Plus and none below. While good herd averages and BAAs are nice, Wally believes longevity is more important.
"We're proud that we've bred and developed 20 cows that have produced over 200,000 pounds of milk in a lifetime," he says. "We had a Milu Betty Ivanhoe Chief daughter who died last year. She was scored Excellent- 93 3E and produced 332,240 in lifetime production."
Having cows that live long, productive lives allows the Behnkes to sell surplus heifers and cows.
"We cull very few cows," he notes. "Most of our cows are sold for dairy."
Last year, Bur-Wall Holsteins sold several cows and heifers privately and at Holstein sales throughout the state including 13 that they sold last spring at the Gildale & Co. Sale at the Gilbertson farm near Hollandale.
While working hard to build the farm operation and raise a family, the Behnkes have always found time to be active in their community and farm organizations. They are members of the county, state and national Holstein associations. Wally has served as a delegate to the National Holstein Convention many times and served six years on the Wisconsin Holstein Board of Directors.
He also served as president of the Green County Holstein Breeders Association and was a representative on the World Dairy Expo Board of Directors for the Wisconsin Holstein Association. In 1982, the Behnkes hosted the Green County Holstein Twilight meeting and last year they hosted the county Holstein picnic at their farm.
Over the years, they have welcomed judging teams from 4-H, FFA and University of Wisconsin-Madison to their farm. They have also hosted several tours at their farm from out-of-state and foreign visitors.
Since graduating from University of Wisconsin-Madison Farm and Industry Short Course in 1991, Wally and Donna's youngest son, Bob, has been employed full time as herdsman on the farm.
Wally and Bob handle the milking and feeding and cleaning chores, breeding records and fieldwork. Donna feeds calves and takes care of record keeping. Their daughter Brenda registers calves.
Brian and Wally select the AI bulls they use on their cows.
"We use the best bulls from several studs including Semex, Select Sires, Accelerated Genetics, ABS, International Protein Sires and Alta Genetics," Brian says. "We use a combination of triple A and the bull's linear to match up sire traits with what the heifer or cow needs. We don't always agree on what bull that's going to be. It's always tough when that bull's proof changes."
The Behnkes use proven bulls and young sires.
"We use some of the bulls we put in stud on our cows, too," Wally says.
They rely on ultrasound to determine if cows are pregnant and to learn the sex of the calf.
The Behnkes' cropping program includes 90 acres of alfalfa including new seeding, 60 acres of corn and 20 acres of soybeans. All of their crops are fed to their cattle. They're very conscientious about the care of the land. The hills are strip cropped and grassed waterways are maintained. They use manure from their dairy cattle to reduce their fertilizer needs and boost the tilth of the soil.
Wally is quick to credit Donna and their children — Roger, Keri, Brian, Bob and Brenda – for his successes on and off the farm.
"I didn't do this all myself," he notes. "Everybody here helped me."
While Bob is the only child working on the farm, Wally is proud of all of his children, many who are working in agriculture. Their oldest son Roger is married to Lisa who is marketing manager at World Dairy Expo. Son Brian is sire analyst for Semex USA in Madison and is a nationally known dairy cattle judge who recently judged the junior dairy show at Wisconsin State Fair. Their youngest child, Brenda Murphy, is sales manager for Agri-View in Madison.
"They're all a great bunch," Wally says.
Wally enjoys milking 60 cows and has no plans to build a large dairy operation.
"That's OK for somebody else, but not me," he says.