If Andy Buttles were successful, he would have a barn full of cows, as would Hilda, head of Stone-Front, his 15-year-old registered Holstein who recently set the lifetime milk record for a Holstein cow.
Hilda, who died in 2020 about two months after setting the national record, produced 460,720 pounds of milk during her lifetime on the farm in Buttles County, Wisconsin. This broke the record set in 2003 by Koepke K0017229-1660, known as the “Granny” cow. Granny produced 458,616 pounds of milk during her lifetime on the Koepkes’ Oconomowoc Farm, Wisconsin.
Although Hilda set the record in 2020, Holstein Association USA just announced the achievement in April of this year.
Cow without problem
“She was never a show ring cow, but she was just a really good animal – medium size with a great udder,” Buttles says of Hilda. “She was one of those cows that if you needed an entire barn full of something she would be the one you would choose.
“She was a real cow with no problem. She was an easy babysitter; we never had any problems with it. And we had some luck along the way.
Hilda was born on Buttles Farm in 2005 to a mother who was a successful milk producer.
“[Hilda’s dam] didn’t have the best udder so we used a bull to try and improve the udder, ”Buttles says. “Everything fell into place perfectly. “
Hilda was not only a record-breaking producer, but she also scored Excellent throughout her productive life. It was officially classified EX-90 4E.
Her best record was set during her nine-year lactation, when she produced 48,200 pounds of milk with one milking three times a day. Hilda has been milked three times a day for the last six years of her life.
“She was producing milk every year,” Buttles says. “Some cows make a big record or two, but she could do it every year. When you think she’s filled nine tanker trucks with milk in her life, it’s just crazy.
Photos of award-winning cows line the walls leading to the Buttles Farm rest room, but there isn’t a single photo of Hilda to be found.
“There was always a cow that was prettier or won the show or got more notoriety,” Buttles says. “When she looked really good when she was young, we never knew she was going to set that kind of record. We don’t even have a snapshot.
One of those fancy show cows from the Buttles herd was Stone-Front Iron Pasta, which was rated EX-96 and was named Holstein Reserve Grand Champion at the 2010 World Dairy Expo.
“Everyone who looked at the cows in our herd was looking at Pasta, not the one paying the bills in the background,” says Buttles.
Hilda set the production record in February 2020 and about two months later she had a severe case of mastitis.
“At this age, although we tried to treat her, she didn’t have much to fight,” he said. “It was a sad day when she passed away. We thought we were going to dry it off and have it around, but that didn’t happen.
The Buttles family settled in Racine County in the 1840s, before Wisconsin became a state. One of Andy’s ancestors was the first white woman born in Racine County.
Dairy farming has become a family tradition passed down from generation to generation of Buttles – they have been breeding registered Holsteins since 1913 – but in 1997, a year after Andy graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison , he decided to move the operation to Lancaster.
“We had a barn with 40 cows that was collapsing, and it didn’t make sense to do anything there, so close to an urban area,” says Buttles.
The year of the move to Lancaster came when Buttles bought Hilda’s grandmother.
“We needed more cattle to fill some of the 200 stalls [on the Lancaster farm]”Says Buttles.” Over the past 24 years we’ve gradually grown from there. We’ve tried to do it mostly with slow internal growth. “
Their most recent addition was a free stall barn with 480 cows about five years ago. The farm now includes three free stall barns and a double-16 milking parlor.
They raise forage for their herd of 1,200 cows on about 2,000 acres, half owned and half leased. Buttles employs 22 people on the farm.
“[Having employees] can be the best part and it can be the worst part of farming, ”he says. “We have key people who have been with us for a long time and who make it easy for us. But trying to find new people is difficult right now.
“People have always been the key here – to have great people who take good care of the cows and who love the cows.”
Stone-Front Farm has a moving herd average of 30,058 pounds of milk with 1,291 pounds of fat (4.3%) and 914 pounds of protein (3.04%).
Much of this production can be attributed to Hilda’s daughters and granddaughters.
“We have a lot of his daughters and granddaughters in the herd, and we’ve sold family genetics as well,” Buttles says. “The only thing the family does is they all milk well. It is not an accident. They only make full milk.
Buttles tends to keep cows in his herd much longer than the industry average. While some cows can live much longer, the average productive lifespan of a Holstein is around four years, according to the Holstein Association USA.
“Older cows just tend to produce more milk – they know the market,” he says. “I really like good cows. This is the part [of dairying] I have always enjoyed it. Seeing good cows is pretty exciting for me.
Buttles says he’s not sure if his family will add another generation to the long line of dairy farmers. He and his wife, Lynette, have two daughters, aged 14 and 11, and he’s not sure if they’ll ever want to take over the farm.
“Time will tell,” he said.
Massey lives near Barneveld, Wisconsin.