Virtual Farm Tour: Kuehl Family Farms
Like many students across the U.S., Nathan and Anthony Kuehl were thrust into the world of virtual learning in the spring of 2020 as COVID-19 closed in-person classrooms. The boys chose to make lemonade from the sour situation and seized an opportunity to develop their farming and entrepreneurship skills.
Their father, Matt, had previously raised dairy beef feeders at Kuehl Family Farms in Cottage Grove, Wisconsin, as a side business. When he began attending school virtually, Nathan wanted to feed calves again so that he had something fun and active to do. Like many, he thought the pandemic would last a couple of months and then he’d go back to his normal schedule, but that’s not what happened.
Matt agreed to Nathan’s idea, but said the boys needed to clean and fix up the barns first. Nathan, now 16, and his younger brother, Anthony, 12, went to work. They cleaned out the barns and proposed a plan to their dad and grandpa, a lifelong farmer, for raising 14 calves. In April 2020, they purchased their first eight calves from Baerwolf Dairies, LLC, in Columbus, Wisconsin.
Their farming venture quickly grew and they now have 44 hutches with preweaned calves and a total of 107 steers in three different barns. They buy 12 Holstein and Angus calves every two weeks, and Anthony has also added a flock of chickens to the mix. The feeders are taken to auction in groups of 15 to 20. They keep one animal per month to feed out and sell the packaged beef to family and friends.
The boys continued attending school virtually through the fall semester before returning to the classroom part-time at the beginning of 2021. But their farming project didn’t slow down.
The boys wake up at 5 a.m. and head to the farm with their dad by 6 a.m. They “divide and conquer” to get all the chores done in about an hour. Anthony mixes milk for the preweaned calves, Nathan beds and checks on the youngest animals, and Matt feeds grain. The boys then feed the milk and follow a rotation for washing eight to 10 buckets per morning. Nathan finishes washing while Anthony takes care of the chickens. They’re usually back in the house by 7 a.m. and start school an hour later.
On most days during the school year, the boys wrapped up school by 1 p.m. and headed back to the farm. Their grandpa met them to help with castrating, vaccinating and other projects. They also do more cleaning and bedding during this time. Nathan said this time with his grandpa was valuable as he often pointed out little things that he might do differently.
“I never realized how many ways you can raise animals,” Nathan said. “I’m always learning how I can do things differently.”
At 5 p.m., they start the afternoon feedings and chores. Because everyone has different afternoon schedules, both boys can do the chores on their own if needed. By 6 or 7 p.m., they head back into the house.
“When we get home and Mom has dinner ready, we’re ready for it,” Nathan said.
In addition to a long list of animal health and husbandry skills, Nathan and Anthony are also getting a good look at the business side of farming. Nathan said he was surprised by the investment needed to get the farm started. He also realized that it takes four to five months before he earns any profit on an animal he’s cared for every day. Matt told him the farm must be able to sustain itself, so the boys budget wisely and get creative.
The farm’s milk mixing and delivery cart is a great example of that. Initially, they mixed milk replacer by hand, but that quickly became inefficient as the herd grew. Their grandpa had a milk cart they could use, but it didn’t work anymore. Nathan and a friend of his spent about a month learning to rewire and reprogram the cart so that it would mix and deliver milk replacer consistently and efficiently.
“We did a lot of googling and it was a lot of trial and error,” Nathan said, “but it’s been working pretty good for us now.”
It appears Nathan and Anthony have been bit by the farming bug as they plan to keep running their beef business through their high school days even with a normal school schedule.
“I enjoy the accomplishment we get from it,” Nathan said. “It’s not the cleanest or easiest job, but it’s fun to say, ‘We did that. We got it done.’”
Anthony agreed with his brother. “It’s fun to see what we’ve been able to do and accomplish.”
Perhaps farming will be a part of their adult lives as well. Nathan says, like his dad, he wants to farm on the side of a full-time job, which may be in engineering. As for Anthony, he said he’d like to keep raising feeder steers after his brother graduates, but doesn’t know what the future looks like beyond that.
“I’m 12,” Anthony said with a laugh. “I got a long way to go.”
Business and economics
Starting Strong - Calf Care