Tucked in the rolling hills of Southwest Wisconsin, the Landon family owns and operates a beautiful 440-cow dairy farm. With amazing views that allow you to see for miles and a creek that runs through the valley, you could say that the Landon family found themselves one of the most gorgeous pieces of property in Lancaster.
Landon farms is owned by three brothers: Gary, Mark and Roger Landon. Gary’s son, Ted, is also involved in the operation as a co-manager along side Chris Udelhofen. Ted represents the 5th generation of Landon’s to live and work on the farm.
How it all got started
It all started in 1890 when Gay Landon purchased the first piece of land that now only makes up a small portion of the property. In 1956, Gay passed the farm down to his son, Ellsworth Landon, and in 1962 Virgil Landon became the 3rd generation of Landons to own the farm.
That brings us to Gary, Mark and Roger, the current owners. In 1980, the brothers established Landon Farms as a corporation, and in 1998 Ted started working on the farm full-time.
Today, the Landon’s own 1,060 acres of land, and rent an additional 660 acres.
Gary, Mark and Roger are behind all the big decision-making, as well as planting and harvesting of corn and alfalfa. Ted spends most of his time and energy caring for the calves and ensuring they’re in good health, as well as managing their hired help.
But, if you’re familiar with farm life, you know that you don’t wear just one hat. There will be days when it’s all hands on deck to get a task done, even if it’s not in your day-to-day job description. As you can imagine, this is often the case during harvest season.
The Landon’s have a herringbone parlor, the most common type of parlor in the United States. The cows stand on an elevated platform in an angled – or herringbone – fashion, facing away from the pit where the operators stand.
With this style of milking parlor, the cow’s udders are typically chest height to the operators, making milking less labor intensive and more efficient.
In the case of Landon Farms, their parlor was designed to milk a total of 20 cows at one time. It’s referred to as a double ten, meaning that ten cows stand on both sides of the pit.
So that Gary, Mark, Roger and Ted can tend to other important farm responsibilities, they made the business decision to hire employees to milk the cows three times per day.
Milking happens at 3 am, 11 am and 7 pm. It takes around five hours to complete one milking, and with 440 cows, that means about 100 cows are milked per hour. This schedule leaves 3 hours between each milking.
To ensure a smooth and efficient milking process, two operators are in the pit at all times, while one individual brings from the cows into the parlor from the holding pen.
5th generation farmer
When talking with Ted you can sense the passion he has for dairy farming. Ted explained, “It felt like a natural career path for me; it was something I always liked doing. I like being outdoors; I would go crazy being indoors all day.”
Growing up, Ted was no stranger to farm work. When he wasn’t in school, and only after he had all of his homework done (Dad’s rule), Ted helped anywhere he was needed on the farm. But, most of his time was spent milking the cows and feeding the calves.
Like most farm kids, what Ted enjoyed most about his childhood was the all the open space and freedom that came with living on the farm. For Ted and his two sisters, there was always plenty of fun to be had and plenty of places to explore.
Ted recalled that one of his fondest childhood memories was a spur of the moment trip with his grandfather. Virgil brought Ted along to trade in their 3-wheeler for a 4-wheeler because Virgil felt it was a safer option. As for Ted, he was just excited about having a new ATV to drive around the farm.
As always, with age came more responsibilities. So following high school, Ted enrolled in the Dairy Herd Management program at Southwest Wisconsin Technical College. During this time he also continued to work on the farm where he was needed.
Ted lives on the farm with his wife, Kathy, and their 3 children, Madison, Maleah, and Maverick.
Disappearing farming community
With all of the challenges dairy farmers have been facing in recent years, it’s no surprise that it’s a topic often discussed.
When asked about the changes they’ve seen in their farming community over the years, Gary was quick to remember all the farms that used to call Lancaster their home. He explained, “There were 16 dairy farms that covered a 14 mile stretch of road;” this number including their own farm.
But now, the majority of those farms are no longer in business. Some are now run as cash crop farms, while the other dairies simply went out of business and the land was sold off. Today, there are only two dairy farms left on that same 14-mile stretch.
With the emergence of industrial scale farms and an oversupply of milk in the industry, dairy farmers have been experiencing exceptionally low milk prices and some are even losing their market for their milk.
When we talked about the future of dairy farming in general, Mark expressed his concern, “I see there being a lot fewer farms and a lot bigger farms. I can’t see it slowing down.”
As for the Landons, Mark said, “I don’t see ourselves increasing in size anytime soon.” Right now, their hope for the future is that they be able to pass their farm down to the next generation.