It was New Year’s Eve in 1989 when Todd Schroeder decided it was time to get back to his dairy farming roots. When he stepped through the door that evening and made the announcement to his wife, Elaine, that he had bought 40 Holstein cows, she asked if he had lost his mind.
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Katelyn Heckman of TBM Farms in Hamburg, Pa., hugs one of her family’s Red and White Holsteins. Photo by Courtney Love

“It was her New Year’s present,” Todd said recently. Elaine, sitting with him on the porch of their farmhouse, just laughed.

But 30 years ago, there was no turning back for Todd.

“It’s just in my blood,” he said.

The decision — impulsive as it seemed at the time — is one neither Todd nor Elaine regrets. Today, three generations of Schroeders are working together on the 112-acre farm that has been in the family for 219 years.

Todd and son Brandon run the dairy, TBM Farms, together with help from Brandon’s wife, Shelia, and their two children, Layne and Owen, and niece, Maci. Todd’s daughter, Tracie, and her two children, Reese and Katelyn, also work on the farm.

On most days, the family members enjoy working alongside each other.

“We have our slight disagreements, but it’s nothing serious,” he said.

That’s true even when the heifers escaped onto Route 662 — as happened during the interview.

Granddaughter Katelyn, 15, finds she can make fast work of her farm chores such as milking of the 150 cows with her brother and cousins.

“It doesn’t feel like work,” she said. “It’s really never boring milking or feeding calves with people I can tell all about my day and complain to.”

Brandon joined Todd on the farm in 1995 after graduating from high school. The two divide up the management roles on the farm. Brandon manages the herd and is the chief mechanic. Todd focuses on planting and harvesting 450 rented acres of soybeans, alfalfa, forage oats, sorghum-sudangrass, and double-crop acreage of corn and wheat. Todd also does the daily feeding.

“We try to feed what we raise,” Brandon said. To reduce feed purchases, the Schroeders roast their own soybeans. The beans replaced distillers grains. “We feel it’s better on the digestive system than our corn distillers,” he said.

Each generation of the Schroeders takes pride in the quality of the family’s cattle. Most of the show string are under the farm’s prefix, TBM Farms. The farm has won premier breeder and exhibitor twice at the Kutztown Fair.

“We’re the homegrown herd,” Brandon said.

When making breeding decisions, Brandon values a cow’s feet and legs more than her udder. Sound legs provide longevity and the resulting economic returns for the farm — even if they aren’t what a show judge would focus on.

“It seems like the udder is what gets you the winner,” Brandon said. “If she has that udder, she will stand out in the ring.”

Shelia got the family into showing because she wanted to exhibit one of her favorites in the herd, Lolita. After an embryo flush, Reese and Katelyn chose two out of seven daughters for shows. The most popular cow, though, is Faye, a 2-year-old Holstein that has won supreme cow at the Kutztown and Oley fairs.

Katelyn and her cousin, Maci, spent two weeks before the Kutztown Fair halter-breaking and preparing the stubborn cow for her moment on the tanbark. To do that, Katelyn said she had to master the art of fitting. She used a clipper with small blades across Faye’s udder.

“It’s so you can see all the mammary veins,” she said. “You can barely see any hair there.”

The family has also experimented with increasing their production through the number of milkings.

They tried milking every 10 hours and three times a day, but it didn’t work. The efforts were taking a toll on the family.

“Exhaustion,” Todd said. “It almost killed us,” added Elaine.

The family went back to milking twice a day. Those were more than just rough days, as Todd recalls.

“There were times where we were financially desperate to make milk,” he said.

Despite the challenges, the family remained resilient.

Ellen Angstadt, a neighbor and fellow dairy farmer, has witnessed the Schroeders’ cohesiveness for more than a decade.

“It’s a family that sticks together,” Angstadt said. “Their cows are their livelihood, and they have a lot of pride in that.”

Angstadt said the Schroeders are also generous.

“They are the kind of family that gives the shirt off their backs to community members, who need a helping hand,” she said.

The older generations of Schroeders feel confident about the future of TBM Farms as members of the third generation are stepping into roles on the farm. Reese, Todd’s oldest grandson, is itching to leave the hallways of Kutztown High School to join his uncle and grandfather on the farm.

“I can’t wait for him to be here with us full time,” Todd said.

Besides joining the farm, Reese plans to develop his small crossbred beef cow-calf herd for additional farm income. His sister, Katelyn, said she wants to become a large-animal veterinarian and serve as the farm’s in-house vet.

She has three Lineback cows in the majority Holstein herd, which her uncle Brandon teases her about daily.

Brandon’s children, who are much younger than Reese and Katelyn, also have aspirations to join the family business.

The Tamil Nadu Cooperative Milk Producers’ Federation Ltd has fixed a procurement target of 6.93 lakh litres of milk per day to the Tiruchi District Cooperative Milk Producers’ Union, popularly known as Tiruchi Aavin.

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