Roger and Sandy Grade moved to their Fond du Lac County farm near Eldorado from Washington County in 1972, after feeling the pressure of urban growth. They bought 135 acres and started with 36 cows.
Over the years, Vision-Aire Farms has grown to 611 owned and 265 rented acres. Today, their 157-cow Holstein herd averages more than 24,000 pounds of milk with 3.9% butterfat and 3.1% protein.
Roger and Sandy raised four children on the farm. Since 1999, their son David and daughter Janet, with her husband, Travis, have come back to work on the farm. Their oldest son, Brian, who works as a farm machinery salesman for Riesterer and Schnell, occasionally helps with farm work.
As each child returned, Roger and Sandy expanded their operation.
While attending Fox Valley Technical College's farm operating program, David continued to help on the farm; during this time, the farm land base grew. Roger and Sandy were also looking for a way to allow David to build some equity in the farm.
"We had always hired someone to do our combining," Roger explains. "Each year, I was writing this big check to someone else, and we thought, 'How can we do this differently to make it more beneficial for our business?' "
In 1999, Roger and Sandy formed a partnership with Brian and David to purchase planting and harvesting equipment. This partnership is called Vision-Aire Custom Enterprises. Roger, David and Brian are each a one-third partner. They plant and harvest several hundred acres of crops every year for neighbors. The enterprise also has given Brian and David the ability to create farm equity.
"We kept growing the business as more neighbors wanted us to do their harvesting and planting," Roger notes.
In 2010, daughter and son-in-law, Janet and Travis Clark, joined Vision-Aire Farms. Janet and Travis are both ag graduates of University of Wisconsin-Platteville. They then formed Vision-Aire Farms LLC in 2012 to allow the next generation to build equity in the dairy operation.
Bigger and better
Recently the Grades' dairy operation has seen a lot of changes. In 2010, an expansion began that took the herd from 70 cows to 157. A heifer shed was remodeled into a 34-stall sand-bedded freestall barn. A year ago, a double-eight herringbone milking parlor was built, and the existing tiestall barn was remodeled into a 67-stall sand-bedded freestall barn. Dry cows and bred heifers are housed at their second farm, where David and his family live.