Working with family can be challenging. But for two custom operations, family is a strength and business advantage.

Luke and Kathy Vander Kinter are part of a two-generation, extended family business providing “everything but manure hauling” in custom services around Green Bay, WI.

Vander Kinter Farms is a custom operation is run by Luke and Kathy; Luke's two brothers Brian and Nick; their dad Wayne; and two of Wayne's brothers, Glen and Clyde. The elder Vander Kinters were dairymen who did custom work on the side — until 12 years ago, when the dairy became outmoded and the younger generation joined the business.

Jason and Steve Linscheid have a custom cropping and harvesting business on the other side of the state, near Dodgeville. They own Linscheid Farms LLC with their sister Jen Hasburgh and parents JoDean and Art, which also includes a 175-cow dairy and 1,200 crop acres.

The major benefit of a family business? Having a ready labor force that wants its business to succeed, say Luke and Kathy Vander Kinter. Maintaining a professionalism is especially important to them because they have one major client, Milk Source. The past several years they've put up 20,000-25,000 acres of haylage and corn silage each year on two of its dairies. This year they'll be taking on a third dairy.

They always manage to have a family member or two on a work crew. “We run our own equipment,” says Luke. “We know what's going on with it and if something happens, we're there to take care of it.”

The Linscheids also divide and conquer. Steve, Jason and their crew chop 1,500 acres of corn silage and 6,000 acres of haylage per year for 8-10 customers. They till, plant, bale and combine for several more. Jen manages the dairy and parttime employees; JoDean raises calves and handles the books and Art feeds cattle, operates field equipment and does whatever else needs doing.

Art and JoDean handed the reigns of the business over to their children six years ago. Being able to let go of the management but stay an important part of the workforce made for a smooth transition, Jason thinks. “Dad adjusted very, very well, saying, ‘Take over and do what you want. It's your turn to take care of things.’ ”

Both family businesses are successful because each member has a definite role in the business. For the Linscheids, those roles were developed over time. After college, Jen worked seven years as a chemist/biologist and Steve as a crop consultant, among other jobs. But neither really liked what they were doing.

Steve came back to the farm in 1995 and after Jason graduated from high school in 1998, they bought a chopper. To help pay for it, they decided to do neighbors' crops and the custom business began.

In 2002, the Linscheids decided to hire more help on the dairy so they could focus on the growing custom operation. That's when Jen returned.

For the Vander Kinters, custom work has always been a part of their lives. Luke's granddad, Wallace, now deceased, started filling neighbors' silos and combining. “But never to where we are today,” Luke says.

The family didn't consciously divide custom duties, he adds. “We all kind of fell into what we wanted to do.” Luke and Wayne cut hay; Brian drives packing tractor or semi; Glen and Clyde drive semis; Kathy, a chopper; and Nick, a merger. Another fulltime employee, Adam Klug, a relative of Nick's, also runs a merger.

“We all have our own specialty,” says Kathy, who also lines up truck drivers. “We're all knowledgeable in everything so if somebody doesn't want to do something, another person just picks up and goes in where they left off.”

The Linscheid brothers divide their duties within the custom part of the LLC. “Steve spends more time in the shop working on machinery; he's in charge of that end and the repair work,” Jason says. He also calls customers to schedule appointments before the season and talks with them during it.

Jason manages the family crops, puts together the cropping and harvesting schedules and checks the condition of the crops. They both manage what they call “an indispensable crew” that has been with them for five or more years. “We couldn't do what we do without Josh, Dave and Jeff,” Steve says.

Together, the Linscheid brothers meet with prospective customers, figure out what they can or can't handle for new business and buy machinery. Jason usually talks with their banker to figure out the financial end of buying equipment.

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To save money, both businesses draw on family expertise to do most of their own equipment maintenance.

The Vander Kinters and the Linscheids also see the importance of communicating regularly.

“As long as everybody communicates, that's the big thing,” says Jason. “As much as we communicate with customers, we try to communicate with each other twice that much. There are days where you might not see a key member of the operation, but you might talk to them a half a dozen times on the phone.”

A sense of humor and patience help, too, say the Vander Kinters.

“We like to keep the atmosphere real light,” Kathy says. “We joke around on the radio and occasionally we pick on somebody or they pick on you. Keeping the atmosphere light keeps everybody awake and staying in good moods. The day always goes faster when everybody is in a good mood and getting along.”

Laughter is a key part of the Linscheid operation, too. But bad days happen, says Jason, and then he's thankful his whole family has easy-going personalities.

“Things get stressful and everybody gets tired, worn out and angry from time to time,” he says. But they remind themselves that they'll probably soon be laughing at the situation.

Luke says it helps that the Vander Kinters don't hold grudges. “Some days we get into a squabble but the next day comes and it becomes just one of those things.”

Juggling family needs with business is part of the job. This year, Luke and Kathy will have to find summer daycare for not only their two-year-old, but also for a newborn.

Being flexible is also important, say the Linscheids. When her four-year-old started preschool last fall, Jen needed to start late two days a week to get her daughter on the bus. The family figured a way to accommodate her. At the same time, when needed in the field, Jen's there for her brothers, Jason says.

The patience and understanding of spouses is priceless, the siblings agree. “It's always a challenge to balance a family business and a family, says Steve, father of two young girls. “We do our best to keep things fair.”

As Jason and his wife expect their first child during spring planting, flexibility and patience will be especially important, he says.

“My sister read an article about family members working together,” he remembers. “It said, ‘Not everyone has to be treated equally, but everyone has to be treated fairly.’ ”