Black (or sometimes red) with a white belt around their middle. It was these unique markings that led circus showman P.T. Barnum to be among the first to bring Dutch Belted cattle to the U.S. from the Netherlands in 1840.
“I kinda like them because they’re different,” Peter Winch said of the Dutch Belted cattle in his dairy herd.
Peter Winch found them about 150 years later when his parents sought to begin rotationally grazing their dairy herd. Smaller in stature than a Holstein, Dutch Belted are known as efficient grazers with a good disposition.
The Winches bred all of their cows to Dutch Belted bulls for the next decade. Today, more than half of the herd, which also is made up of Holstein and Milking Shorthorn cattle, still carries Dutch Belted genetics.
“It’s a somewhat dominant trait,” Winch said when describing the belted markings that often draws the attention of photographers traveling along nearby U.S. Highway 18 in Grant County.
Peter and Christina with Matthew, 9; Wesley, 10; and Randy, 13. Right now their sons have career aspirations of being an agricultural engineer, a crop duster and a farmer. The boys help with calf and milking chores, show cattle at the Grant County Fair and create farm scene dioramas. In addition to Farm Bureau, the Winches are involved in the Fennimore FFA Alumni and the Plum Valley Boosters 4-H Club.
Not just the breed of cattle, but the timing of their breeding, is another way Peter and his wife, Christina, do things different from the norm. Their herd of 200 cows give birth to calves in the spring and fall. The Winches say its better on the cows, calves and their owners to avoid calving during the hottest and coldest months of the year.
While this seasonal calving schedule means that there are days when four or more calves arrive, it allows the calves to be raised in groups. In 2014, an airy calf barn was built to accommodate this approach. It features two large pens that each comfortably hold 25 calves. A smaller third pen is for calves that are less than two weeks of age. The barn also provides cover to hutches that house newborn calves that are fed with bottles for the first few days.
At the center of the calf barn is an office that contains automatic calf feeders. Letting technology feed and track the nutritional intake of each calf is better for everyone involved.
Their cattle are milked twice daily in a ‘swing-12’ milking parlor. The farm has two full-time employees. Pictured is a bird’s eye view of Christina observing calves.
Instead of being tied to feeding calves twice per day, they can spend time cleaning barns and focusing on the health of the entire herd. The computer in the barn office is connected to video cameras monitoring the calf and maternity pens. The footage also is available on the iPad in the couple’s home.
“Our farm is more automated than we are personally,” joked Peter and Christina, neither of whom own a smartphone.
They are forward-thinking when it comes to the farm’s future. With their eldest son now a teenager, and two more sons close behind, the calf barn was built to easily accommodate an expansion of pen space someday.
As for the farm’s past, Peter’s link goes back more than 140 years to when his mother’s great-great uncle, William Marsden, owned it. A couple of country doctors are part of his lineage. Both of his parents grew up in Madison, but his father worked on an uncle’s farm in Rock County. When another uncle was preparing to sell the farm near Fennimore in the 1960s, Peter’s parents, who were helping clean, decided to start farming.
The Winches farm in southwest Wisconsin is 450 acres of alfalfa, corn and pasture. The farm has 100 acres of pasture where the herd of Dutch Belted and Holstein cows graze and relax.
Peter graduated from Fennimore High School in 1991. He helped his parents while earning degrees in agribusiness and dairy herd management at Southwest Wisconsin Technical College where he later taught on a substitute basis. He also was involved in a small equipment and fencing business. Peter started farming full-time with his mother after his father died unexpectedly in the fall of 2001.
That same year he married Christina (Silberhorn), who grew up on a 50-acre fresh market fruit and vegetable farm, in aptly named Garden Prairie, Illinois. Much of her youth was spent selling produce from the back of a truck in Chicago and Rockford. Her mother and sister continue the business today.
Christina and Peter met through friends while she attended Illinois State University in Bloomington. Upon graduation she was open to taking a job in southern Wisconsin. As fate would have it, a job for an agricultural instructor was available at Fennimore High School.
She taught at Fennimore until deciding to be a stay-at-home mom to their three sons. Low milk prices in 2009 prompted Christina to revive her career. Today, she teaches agricultural courses at Southwest Wisconsin Technical College.
Last year, Peter was elected president of the Grant County Farm Bureau, after serving more than five years as secretary and treasurer. Grant County’s young board members and strong Young Farmer and Agriculturist committee has him encouraged about its future.
Peter credits a neighbor, George Porter, who he bought a farm from for asking him to become a Farm Bureau member. Christina grew up in a Farm Bureau family and was an intern with the Illinois Farm Bureau during college and insisted that they get involved at the local level after they were married.
Story by Casey Langan. Original version appeared in the June|July 2016 issue of Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation’s Rural Route.