Mel Pittman Blends Farming, Leadership

Pierce County Farmer is 2013 Master Agriculturist.

Published on: Apr 8, 2013

Mel Pittman was born and raised on the Pierce County farm where he still lives, the seventh of 13 children.

His dad, Clarence, purchased the original 120-acre farm in 1942 with help from his father. A year later, Mel's parents were married.

There was always plenty of work to be done on the farm for the home-grown workforce, Mel recalls. "Dad built an addition on the barn in the early 1960s. By then we were milking 50 cows. He could do that because he always had four or five sons around to do work."

Like several of his older siblings, after graduating from high school Mel attended University of Wisconsin-River Falls. He majored in animal science and planned to work off the farm after getting his bachelor's degree. While attending UW-River Falls, Mel met fellow classmate Pat Dushek, a native of Fond du Lac. She was majoring in general agriculture with plans of becoming a meat inspector after graduation.

Mel and Pat Pittman make calf care and calf comfort a priority on their farm. Calves are housed in individual pens in a three-sided, south-facing facility that the Pittmans designed.
Mel and Pat Pittman make calf care and calf comfort a priority on their farm. Calves are housed in individual pens in a three-sided, south-facing facility that the Pittmans designed.

"It wasn't until we graduated from UW-River Falls in May 1976 that my dad said he wanted to step back and retire," Mel explains. A month after graduation, Mel and Pat were married. They worked for Mel's parents for two years before they started buying the farm, cattle and machinery in January 1979.

"Dad continued to help with fieldwork after he sold the farm to us," Mel says.

Making improvements
Over the years, Mel and Pat upgraded their dairy facilities, increased their herd size and bought more land. Today, the couple owns 407 acres and milks 82 Holstein cows. Their herd averages 23,000 pounds of milk. The couple has made milk quality a priority. Their somatic cell count has averaged 80,000 for more than a decade. In 2012, the SCC was 67,000.

Cow comfort has also been a priority. Ten years ago, they built a double-six herringbone milking parlor and a 75-stall freestall barn that features large stalls, rubber mats and rubber-filled mattresses. Up to 20 special-needs cows are kept in the adjoining tiestall barn. Cows are fed a total mixed ration twice a day, which has helped boost milk production and cow health.

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Accelerated Genetics selects which bulls to use, while Mel handles the breeding through artificial insemination.

"If a cow comes in heat when I'm gone and someone catches her in heat, then they call a technician," he adds.

The Pittmans also pay close attention to heifer comfort. Calves are housed in a three-sided, south-facing facility. They are kept in individual pens and are weaned at 2 months old. They are then housed in a shed in group pens.

"We also utilize seasonal pastures for both replacement heifers and cows to improve animal comfort," Mel says.

Mel works to maximize crop yields. He uses contour strips, grassed waterways and dams to conserve soil on his rolling hills. He also performs minimum-tillage and no-till practices to minimize soil erosion. Crops include corn, alfalfa and oats. His land is productive enough to provide most of the feed for his herd, plus extra corn to sell as a cash crop. For the past five years, Mel has rented 40 acres of cropland to a neighbor.

Pat handles the bookkeeping for the farm, does yard work and mowing, and milks the cows on occasion. She also works part time as a teller at the local bank.

Giving back
While Mel enjoys doing fieldwork and working daily with the cows, during the past 15 years he has become increasingly involved in leadership positions in his community, farm organizations and local agribusinesses. As a result, 10 years ago, he and Pat began hiring UW-River Falls students to work at the farm part time to gain experience working on a dairy operation and to make money to help pay for school.

"The student usually milks while I do feeding chores and clean the freestall barn," Mel explains. "We sometimes have two students here if I'm gone to a meeting or take time off."

Mel was elected to the Pierce County board of supervisors in 2004 and has served alternately as chairman and vice chairman of the Ag and Extension Education Committee. He is currently president of the Wisconsin Associated County Extension Committees. From 2010-12, he was secretary-treasurer. He also serves on several county committees, including the Land Conservation Committee, Parks Committee, Veterans Services Committee, Finance and Personnel Committee, Revolving Loan Fund Committee, and Loss Control Committee.

Mel also served as executive chairman of the 2010 Wisconsin Farm Technology Days held in Pierce County and is a member of Hiawatha Valley Toastmasters. He currently serves on the Hastings Cooperative Creamery board of directors. A Farm Bureau member for more than 30 years, Mel served on the Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation State Committee for a number of years and was chairman of the Dairy Committee. He is also a member and past-president of the Pierce County Farm Bureau, and is active in his church.

Mel says he likes the work, responsibilities and challenges that come along with all the leadership opportunities he is involved in.

"I've tried to live an enjoyable life," Mel says. "I feel pretty good about how my life has turned out."