Pat and Phyllis Agnew and family continue a five-generation farming legacy at Mapleton Valley Farms in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin, with their 55-cow dairy operation. Their small farm has deep roots in the local community in the heart of America’s Dairyland, and they’ve even branched out internationally with their dairy endeavors.
Their practice of international herd breeding dates to the 1960’s with Phyllis’s father, Willard, when he introduced Australian Illawarra Shorthorn genetics into their dairy farm just 30 miles from the current
operation. “We bred a bull used in the UK, Australia, and New Zealand,” Phyllis said. Last summer, the Agnews welcomed two new calves born on their farm from embryos imported from Australia.
“It’s awesome, educational and enjoyable having an international connection with so many fellow dairymen,” Phyllis said. “My daughter, Katie, made a few trips to visit friends in Australia, and we have hosted student trainees and dairy farmers from Australia, the UK, Japan Sweden, Italy, Germany and the Netherlands. Learning goes both ways.”
The Agnews special interest in Milking Shorthorns has been a successful endeavor. They are involved in the American Milking Shorthorn Society (AMSS); Pat served as an AMSS Director and Katie is in her second term as National Director for AMSS. Pat and Phyllis’s son, Tom, has judged shows at the local and national level for AMSS. Several All-American Milking Shorthorn winners have emerged from their herd of production-tested and classified cattle. In 2017, the Agnews’ 7-year-old Milking Shorthorn bred on their farm won the Wisconsin Cow of the Year Award.
The family is involved in agriculture in many ways. After living their childhood on the family farm, Katie and Tom became third generation UW-Madison alumni, following in the footsteps of their mother and her father who attended the UW Ag Short Course. Katie teaches at a large urban high school, where she advocated for the addition of an Agricultural Science class that started in 2020. Tom has his own business but also does custom crop work. Tom’s two children help their grandparents on the farm and participate in 4-H and showed cattle at county and state fairs and the World Dairy Expo this year.
The Agnew family works as a team to ensure the smooth operation of Mapleton Valley Farm, each playing an integral role. In addition to the regular farm duties that Pat and Phyllis undertake on the farm, Katie helps with milking and Tom with crop management. “There’s nothing better than working with family. It is not always easy, but that’s how we grow,” Phyllis said. They also have appreciated the relationship with their Foremost Farms field reps in the past, and they are looking forward to building that same relationship with Brian Ulness, their recently assigned Foremost Farms field. “We appreciate the connection they provide to the cooperative.
Mapleton Valley Farms produces their own alfalfa, soybeans, corn, wheat and winter rye for forage. They also raise their own cattle replacements, making sure to expose calves to headlocks for ease of handling. “All dairy folks will agree that a special passion is needed to raise cattle; that’s what drives us to keep going every day,” Phyllis said.
In the last several years, the Agnews made improvements to Mapleton Valley Farm, including the addition of free stalls and tie stalls where cows are milked. “We added a sealed storage unit, and as with all dairies, tried to repair and preserve what we can,” Phyllis said.
It’s gratifying for the Agnews to hear from people that ‘if I was a cow, I would want to live here’ on their beautiful farm. With the urban expansion in their community, the Agnews work hard to give rural farming a good look. “We’re not big, but we are able to continue in a way that still fits our neighborhood. It’s important to us that the 4,000 cars passing by our farm every day get a positive impression of agriculture,” Phyllis said.