United Pride Dairy in Phillips, Wisc. is the multi-family farm operation of 3rd and 4th generation farmers with a history dating back to 1911. It was officially founded in 1996 by neighbors Ed Jasurda and Jon Pesko. It is now a 2,540-cow dairy operation that also includes Jon’s son Jeremy Pesko and son-in-law Bill Harper in joint ownership.
Jeremy and Bill run the farm as a team. “I think our farm is unique in that when one of us is down, the other is there to help,” said Bill. Jeremy mainly oversees the crops and machinery maintenance, and Bill works on the financials and day-to-day operations. They employ 90 people to keep the farm running, many of whom are employed in the machine shop and field management.
Bill started a calf-raising enterprise on the farm shortly after graduating from college at University of Wisconsin-Green Bay with a Business Management degree. “Until March of 2005 when we kept the first calves here, I didn’t really know anything about dairy animals,” said Bill. “It was an eye opener for me; not so much the business side or the money side, but the whole idea of caring for a calf, handling their immune system, housing them and feeding them. How do you raise a baby? That was a whole new world to me.” It was a learning curve for Bill, but he was able to learn and succeed, reporting nearly zero death loss toward the end of his ownership in that enterprise in 2014.
United Pride Dairy promotes a flexible and family friendly environment, taking time-off requests and personal schedules into consideration.
“We focus on three things here: take care of the land, take care of the cattle and take care of the employees,” said Bill.
United Pride Dairy made significant improvements in cow comfort and employee convenience with their upgrade from a double-14 parallel parlor to a 60-stall rotary parlor in 2014, increasing their herd from about 900 to 1,450 milking cows. “We added three employees to milk an additional 550 cows, so it was very labor-efficient,” said Bill.
For efficient manure management, United Pride Dairy eliminated the need for winter manure hauling by adding a large manure lagoon and sand separator system to recycle sand bedding. “It saves us from buying a lot of yards of sand each year, so it helps with sustainability and resource management,” said Bill. “Today, we’re reclaiming about 90% of our annual sand use.”
The harsh, cold winters of Phillips bring challenges to United Pride Dairy. They’ve made improvements by adding cross-ventilation to their freestyle barn to help combat this issue and circulate out the cold air. Many farmers use cross-ventilation for summer heat management and elimination, but Bill sees the opposite benefit in the winter for removing excess cold air.
Every year, United Pride Dairy also takes care of their local community. They invite school children to their farm for a tour to experience the sights, smells and activities of farm life. They also host an event called “Books in the Barn,” where the local library and families join to read books out loud to their children in a rural setting. Attendees of the on-farm events are often awestruck by the size of the farm and the number of cows and employees. “It’s just something that the public doesn’t see from the curbside,” said Bill. “It’s a great PR took for our dairy farm.”
Both Bill and John have served on the Board of Directors at Foremost Farms, with Bill having served for over 20 years. Foremost Farms Field Representative Kaitlin Heusel works with United Pride Dairy and is always a phone call away if they need her for anything.