The Krusenbaum Farm: A Case Study and Model in the Establishment of an Organic Dairy Farm
In the winter of 1990, a conventional dairy/cash grain farm in Southeastern Wisconsin was
leased to the Krusenbaum family, where they wanted to build a successful family farm operation
using practices that are as close to organic farming principles as possible. The underlying goal of
this project was to ascertain if a low-input approach is a viable entry strategy for a new dairy
1) To describe the biological, chemical, physical, and financial effects of adopting organic dairy
2) To chronicle the evolution of a set of coherent low-input farm strategies to deal with the
issues of crop rotation, soil erosion, nutrient management, animal husbandry, and debt
3) To develop educational materials that will help others evaluate alternative production
To facilitate the study of the transition process, a team of consultants was formed, consisting of
research and extension specialists at the University of Wisconsin, agronomists form the Michael
Fields Agricultural Institute, the crop/livestock agent from the Walworth County Extension
Service, and two established low-input farming neighbors. A journal of daily agronomic
activities, rainfall, and decision making was used to provide information on key variables.
Interviews with the Krusenbaums were conducted and used extensively by the team rural
sociologist to understand the reasons behind certain decisions and to record the sources of new
information. The Krusenbaums were consulted on issues regarding weed control, design of crop
rotation, alternative manure management strategies, and rotational grazing. Field sampling was
used to monitor weed populations, earthworm numbers, and evolving soil fertility levels.
Sampling took place each spring at 33 permanent sites, representing various cropping histories,
rotations, and soil types on the farm.
After three complete years of monitoring, it appears that low input crop production input
approach is a workable entry strategy for a beginning farmer. By the end of 1992 the rolling herd
average (RHA) had increased from 15,000 lbs/yr to 19,100 lbs/yr. Purchased feed costs ranged
from $300 to $370/cow, indicating that the farm was nearly self-sufficient and producing high
quality feed. Within the crop enterprises, hay production remained near target levels (3.5 tdm/a)
but corn yields were disappointing (target 130 bu/a). While 1991 and 1992 were poor growing
seasons in southeastern Wisconsin, the combinations of low solid fertility/nutrient availability,
soil compaction and less than satisfactory weed control contributed to the lower yields. Net
worth (Fair Market Value) of the farm has, however, increased from $15,000 to $150,000.
Estimated net farm income in 1992 was $31,000.
Highlights during the first three years of this project included the development of a crop rotation
and farm conservation plan, and the initiation of rotational grazing and an improved manure
management system. Erosion losses on the steepest slopes were estimated to have decreased
from 8 to 3.4 tons/acre/year due to the installation of contour strips and a longer, sod-based
rotation. Nutrient monitoring has highlighted the problem of potassium deficiency on the farm
and focused attention on urine trapping as manure leaves the barn and is stacked in windrows.
Rotational grazing was successfully introduced on 34 acres in the summer of 1992 and was
expanded to 62 acres in 1993 to address concerns of profitability and labor management.
Outreach activities included three field days, numerous visits by interested individuals and small
groups, three open meetings in Madison, and several newspaper articles. Extension publications
pertaining to the financial situation on the farm after four years, an analysis of the 1992 and
1993 labor diary and an economic analysis of the first two years of rotational grazing were
Potential Contributions and Practical Applications:
The low-input farming strategy requires less capital, which can be particularly attractive to both
entry-level farmers and lenders. Specific successes of the Krusenbaums during this initiation
period might be of interest to established dairy farmers. These include elimination of herbicides
and insecticides, and improving manure management.