More than 50 people packed the stuffy town hall to hear Todd Tuls present his plans to the Bradford Town Board and residents Tuesday night.
"As a future member of the community, I am looking forward to working with local farmers (and) local people," he said.
Tuls told the Gazette he could be applying for a town permit in four to six weeks.
The farm, called Rock Prairie Dairy, would have a total of 5,300 animals and milk 4,600 of them three times a day, he said. The site is a 160-acre parcel owned by Tom and Sue Metcalf on the northeast corner of Highway 14 and Scharine Road in far eastern Rock County.
Rock Prairie Dairy would be nearly twice the size of Larson Acres, the largest dairy in Rock County. Larson Acres is expanding and plans to have 2,300 milking cows and 600 dry cows.
Residents quizzed Tuls about the effect the dairy would have on the area, including on groundwater, roads and property values.
Margaret Pulera, who lives on McFarland Road about three miles from the proposed dairy, researched Tuls and his farms and asked pointed questions about manure spills, groundwater and what the neighbors of his current farms would say about him.
Tuls said his farms had two minor, recorded manure spills that they cleaned up. He said his farms have improved the safety measures and monitoring and hired more staff since the last spill.
"I'm coming to Wisconsin with that knowledge behind me," Tuls said, noting he's already been testing area wells.
Tuls and other state agriculture staff members in attendance responded to residents' concerns about groundwater and other issues by pointing to what they described as the state Department of Natural Resources' highly regulated permitting process. Tuls said he already is working with the DNR and state Department of Transportation.
Tuls said he's secured more than 5,000 acres for manure management. Stored manure would be covered, and the latest technologies would be used in handling and spreading manure, he said. The farm would have a 14-month storage capacity.
One resident wondered if the farm would ever expand.
Rock Prairie Dairy would be built for 5,300 animals, "and that's all it's ever going to have," he said. If he saw success at Rock Prairie Dairy, Tuls said he would look to building another dairy, possibly in Rock County.
Tuls said he is a fourth-generation dairy farmer, born and raised in Southern California.
"I had a passion for cows ever since I was real little, and (I) loved the dairy business," he said.
He farmed for years with his dad and brother until moving to Nebraska in 2000 to start his own farm. He's expanded ever since, now milking about 10,000 cows on two farms in Shelby, Neb., making him the state's largest dairy farmer.
A relationship with Grande Cheese, which has a plant in Juda in Green County, helped attract Tuls to the area. He sold milk to the plant for about five years and started discussions about possibly building a farm here to reduce freight costs, he said. He said he fell in love with the state, which he said is probably the best dairy state in the country because of its great environment for cows.
Milk plants in southern Wisconsin need more milk because the number of cows has dropped, he said. Bradford Township also provides big, open fields to spread manure and a lot of corn is grown in the area, he said.
The Rock Prairie Dairy would bring a $35 million investment into the county, Tuls said, between cattle, facilities and equipment. The farm would not raise young stock, but who would and where is yet to be decided, he said.
Tuls said he would not be moving to Wisconsin, but his son, who is a freshman in college, wants to continue in the business and might move to the Rock Prairie Dairy.