Voegeli Brown Swiss: An Adventure all wrapped up in one week!
Voegeli Brown Swiss is home to the Bryan and Jimmy Voegeli family along with a herd of Brown Swiss cows that has received world-wide recognition through multiple generations. Voegeli Brown Swiss is home to ‘Madora’ a 15th generation Excellent cow and multiple All-American and production award winners.
The farm was homesteaded in 1854 in Monticello, Wisconsin, by Swiss predecessors. In 1895, Jacob Voegeli, Bryan’s great-grandfather purchased the first registered Brown Swiss and they have had registered Brown Swiss ever since. Currently, the sixth generation is involved in operations at the farm. Bryan’s mother Alice, brother Jimmy, Bryan’s two children, Brienna and Christopher – along with a great work force – operate the farm. The farm now has a 220-milking-cow herd and they own 1,000 acres and rent neighboring land for a total of 1,300 acres of crops.
The family has been showing at the World Dairy Expo since the beginning. This year marks the 51st year of exhibiting. Bryan’s father Howard was instrumental in working with the group that included Norm Magnussen, Gene Nelson and Allen Hetts, to bring the show to Madison from Waterloo those first years. They even donated cattle for sales to come up with the seed money. “It was such a great group of people that worked so hard to get it started,” said Bryan, “and so many believed it should be there. So we were in it from the very beginning. I was lucky enough to attend all them. Not sure if I showed that first year but I certainly took off school to help!” Bryan continued, “There is no greater venue than the World Dairy Expo to highlight genetics. People from 100 different counties, most states in the US and Canada are there. It is the meeting place of the dairy industry and “The Show” that most everyone would like to be at just to interact with breeders, industry people, trade show or sales and looking at genetics. It’s all right there.”
When preparing for the show the Voegelis designate show pens for their heifers which are then fed grass based hay and their nutritionist makes up a balanced show feed for them. They have pasture for walk and exercise. They are isolated as a show group. Bryan says the challenge comes with the cows. “We are free stall based herd and feed a single herd TMR, so the cows are more limited to getting them prepared like the show ring dictates. We have no way to have them railed down with them in the herd. We don’t have a show barn like some so it makes it more challenging for us to accomplish that with our operation. Ultimately production is one of most important things for me and that’s our focus so the opportunity with the cows is a bit more challenging. As we start working with them though we do tie them in another area to feed more hay during the day but it’s not like if we had a show barn.”
“The biggest challenge we face,” Bryan said, “is like many, finding enough labor. Plus we have the added challenge of hosting tours with our proximity to Madison. We host around 10 different tour groups
at the farm during the week. Tuesday of Expo week I host a party at the farm. We cook out and try to welcome as many foreign guests as we can, many have become returning friends. To see so many people that we’ve known for so many years…that’s all part of it. I’m on the Expo board so that creates challenges too. It is a challenge getting moved in, getting cattle adjusted, settled in and fed. Time juggling is a challenge but that’s what makes Expo, Expo. Everyone is going 150% because that’s what Expo is. Entertaining people and keeping the crews going in all areas.
Expo is a great place to learn as well according to Bryan. His advice for youngsters is to try and tie in or work with one of the many show crews. “What we try to do is open up and bring people in that come along to show. I think a young person, if they can hook up with a good show string for the week, there is so much to learn and it is so intense and they don’t realize how intense it is until they get there. Everything you do is magnified. They can learn so much about feeding, care, preparing, etc. and if they can go with someone who is willing to teach that’s the best. They might as well work with the best of the best because all of them are here. A young person will learn more in one week working with a good fitting crew than they ever read about or get anywhere else. The young kids that work with some of these great outfits – they will lead crews in the next five years.”
“If you are going to put a financial number or value on it (showing at Expo) you will find out it’s a long term investment because to make one or two loops around that ring, in what have in the cow, is high. But the exposure you get, if you enjoy the experience and meeting people, the repayment is returned in so many different ways. Sometimes you do well, sometimes it’s the exposure and the value is recouped later, sometimes it’s just the experience of the great adventure. Your payback is not always immediate – it’s expensive but everyone is rewarded and all sum it up differently. For some it is the experience – some have to sell so many dollars’ worth of cattle or genetics – some have to win. Everyone is different. For me it is more about the exposure. We try to merchandise, we like to meet people and we like to advertise. We keep doing it because we believe it has terrific value to it and it’s our heritage,” Bryan said.
“My favorite part of Expo is broad based. It’s the people there – the old friends, the new friends, the culture, the history, the drama of the show, it’s the meeting of the people. There are so many facets that make expo so interesting. To watch the show is fascinating, to meet new people, see the trade show, learn new things - it’s an adventure all wrapped up in one week. And sometimes it is an overwhelming adventure,” he laughed.