2020 Distinguished Young Holstein Breeder
The Gildale prefix has been a familiar name among Registered Holstein breeders for more than 40 years. Erik Gilbertson and his wife Brenda are the fourth generation to operate the dairy, located right within the borders of the town of Hollandale.
Erik grew up on Gildale Holsteins and Brenda also came from a Registered Holstein dairy, Cava-Lanes Holsteins in Reedsville. Today, they farm together at Gildale Holsteins with their daughters, Makenna (10), Elise (7), Naydeen (5) and Janelle (1). After graduating from the UW-Madison Farm & Industry Short Course, Erik farmed with his father, Mark, while also working off the farm at shows and sales. When Mark suffered a stroke in 2004, Erik made the decision to stay on the farm and continue the Gildale name. Erik and Brenda were married in 2009, and farmed in partnership with Mark until purchasing the farm in 2017.
The herd they have built today is a result of breeding from genetics purchased from Canada in 1996 when Mark and Erik wanted to rebuild the herd following a dispersal a few years earlier. At that time, the exchange rate was in favor of the US dollar so the Gilbertsons were able to invest in Canadian genetics for an ideal price. The pair invested in high type individuals like Bridgewood Stardust Barbie, EX-93, who became a very successful member of the herd. She did well in the showring and transmitted her big, tall and wide frame with youthful udders to her offspring that still remain in the herd today.
Since they started farming together in 2008, Erik and Brenda have improved their BAA by nearly two points, up from 109.6 to 111.1. The barn currently houses 18 Excellent cows, 24 Very Good cows and just seven Good Plus cows.
Over the years, Erik and Mark continued to make trips to Canada to invest in new genetics. This allowed Erik to develop a breeding philosophy similar to breeders in Canada and develop an eye for animals. Two other individuals that were purchased that had an impact on the herd were Valley Lane GDR Nutmeg, EX-92, and Paradigm Formation Mint, EX-90.
Nutmeg was one of the cornerstones of Erik’s junior showing career and was named Grand Champion of the District 3 Show two years in a row. Her Jasper granddaughter also did well in the showring, placing second in the 2013 Wisconsin Holstein Futurity.
Mint was known for her components and high scoring family members. This cow family has produced two herd favorites today - Gildale Storm Marie EX-93, and her daughter, Gildale Aftershock Maria EX-94.
This breeding philosophy and eye for cattle led Erik and his friend Nik Sutter to purchase Sunnyset Mason Trixie EX-92. Her daughter, Ms Gildale Roy Tabitha EX-94, became a cornerstone of the breeding program and was also Grand Champion of the District 3 Show twice and produced a number of high type daughters.
Another cow family that the Gilbertsons are working with is that of Vale-O-Skene Atwood Stars, EX-94, who was the Grand Champion of the District 6 Holstein Show in 2019 and was owned in partnership with Brandon Flannery. Stars transitioned into an even greater cow with so much potential which motivated Erik to become a better breeder and caretaker. Erik also says it was a privilege to partner with a great friend who inspired him to work even harder. They lost Stars last summer but have several promising young daughters thanks to success with IVF.
A recent purchase that the Gilbertsons are excited about is Our-Favorite She Vintage-ET. This Avalanche daughter was fresh last fall and is coming along nicely. She has high genomic type that comes from a deep cow family, Our-Favorite Unlimited EX-94.
Gildale Advent Primrose sold as a calf in the 2008 “Gildale and Company” sale to Second-Look Holsteins. Through their care, she was the first Gildale-bred cow to achieve the score of Excellent-95. She is a descendant of Windy-Knoll-View Ultimate Pala EX-94 DOM. Another consignment in the 2008 Gildale and Company sale, Ms Ava Pronto Alice from Marty Kinyon, made her new home at Gildale and established strong red lines in Erik’s breeding program. Her daughter, Gildale Aso Attractiv-Red-ET EX-93, is a favorite Red and White Holstein at Gildale and transmits well.
The Gilbertsons plan to continue breeding cows that produce good components while also exemplifying good type and longevity. “Milking cows is a daily thing for me, it’s part of us and our way of life. We take pride in breeding cows and it’s our hope that we can share success with other breeders as well,” Erik says.
Management also remains a very important part of developing these types of cows. In the last few years cow comfort has become one of the most important aspects of care. Over the years, the Gilbertsons have installed mattresses, more fans, aisle mats, improved neck rails, and the addition of box stalls. Grazing also gives cows the ability to exercise and get outside during the nicer parts of the year. The Gilbertsons value care of heifers, too, so in 2016 a new heifer barn was built for younger heifers and breeding age heifers.
Being active in the community is important to the family in addition to farming. Erik has served as a lieutenant at the Hollandale Volunteer Fire Department for 20-plus years and is the dairy leader for the Blue Ribbon 4-H Club. The couple also hosts farm tours for the Pecatonica Elementary School and Brenda volunteers in the classroom. Brenda’s passion for her fellow farmers led her to found the MILK 5K Run/Walk to support and create awareness around mental health in rural communities.
In addition to shows, other Wisconsin Holstein activities are critical to the success and involvement of both Erik and Brenda but also for their children. In 2017, Gildale was the site of the Wisconsin Holstein State Picnic. The couple is active with the Iowa County Holstein Association and Brenda serves on the District 3 Show committee.
Installing a strong work ethic in their children is something both feel strongly about and believe that farming is one of the best ways to do so. They hope to offer their children this way of life and character building skills through the connections of the dairy industry. Erik and Brenda are looking forward to getting their daughters more involved in Junior Holsteins and 4-H as well as FFA later down the road.