September 5, 2017 at 3:32 p.m.
But to his milk processor, Bernstetter is among the elite dairy farmers not just in Wadena County or Minnesota, but in the nation.
In March, Bernstetter was presented a 10-Year Milk Quality Award by Land O'Lakes, an award given to dairy farmers "whose milk meets the highest quality standards for 10 years," according to a press release. Bernstetter was one of only 12 dairy farmers nationwide to receive this award this year.
"It's an achievement," Bernstetter said of the award.
Bernstetter dairy farms on his home farm near Sebeka, Minn. His parents purchased the farm in the late 1950s and continued to farm until his dad passed away in 1980. At that time, Bernstetter took over management of the dairy with help from his brothers. Today, the farm is owned by Bernstetter and his siblings. Bernstetter continues to do much of the farm work himself, although one brother does calf chores and others help out during harvest time.
Producing high quality milk has always been a priority for Bernstetter, who milks his herd twice a day in a stanchion barn. While he hasn't made a lot of changes to his dairy farm over the years, the changes he has made have been instrumental in keeping his SCC low and mastitis cases to a minimum. Currently, his herd's SCC is between 100,000 and 125,000. It typically runs around 150,000, he said.
"It isn't hard to do if you stay one step ahead of it," Bernstetter said of keeping a low SCC.
The first change Bernstetter made in regards to the dairy was switching from buckets to a pipeline system 17 years ago. About seven years ago, he started having Pro-Dairy in Wadena, Minn., come out to check the entire milking system annually - from the vacuum and pulsation to the units and inflations.
"That has been the biggest thing [that has helped keep SCC low]," Bernstetter said. "They come out one time a year and do maintenance checks on everything ... and make sure everything is running properly."
These annual checks were prompted by a visit from one of Pro-Dairy's route people. At the time, Bernstetter was having teat end problems throughout his herd and his cows were kicky while being milked. A slight change in the vacuum ended both issues.
"I noticed my cows weren't kicking anymore and the teat end problems went away, just by lowering the vacuum a little bit," Bernstetter said. "... I think it all comes down to milking equipment."
Keeping the cows clean and dry in the stanchions and thoroughly cleaning and drying them before every milking are two more keys to Bernstetter's milk quality success.
During the winter months, Bernstetter's herd spends much of its time in the stanchion barn. The stanchions are bedded with clean straw daily. During the day, the herd is let out to a bedded pack, and in summer days are spent on pasture.
Prior to milking, each udder is thoroughly washed with a thick paper towel soaked in an iodine udder wash and is dried with a thinner paper towel. Bernstetter also uses an iodine barrier dip post-milking.
"The big thing is to get the teat ends good and clean," he said.
Udder conformation has also made an impact on milk quality.
"I keep well-uddered, strong-uddered cows," Bernstetter said.
This hasn't always been the case, however. Bernstetter has been using A.I. exclusively for the last 15 to 20 years. When he first began using A.I., he was using the young sire program but wasn't getting the cows he was hoping for. He noticed how the udders on low-uddered cows took a beating. When he began using the mating program from his A.I. company on his herd, he set udders as one of his high priorities.
"Especially when I went to mating I saw a noticeable different in the udders," Bernstetter said. "When I started mating, I could tell on the first calf that was born the body difference. I can really tell raising them, too. I think it's one good program a person can be on."
Bernstetter raises all of his youngstock - his heifers as replacements and his bull calves as steers. The calves are housed in a loafing shed as young calves and are put in outside lots when they get older. They are bedded with straw or swamp hay during the winter months and are put on pasture in summer.
Each of these factors has helped Bernstetter achieve - and maintain - production of high quality milk on his dairy farm.
"The shelf life and taste of the products is so much better [when the milk is high quality]," he said of why milk quality is important. "And the premiums are good."
For his milk quality achievements over the last 10 years, Bernstetter was presented an original signed and numbered print by Bonnie Mohr - one that was commissioned by Land O'Lakes specifically for this award - at a Land O'Lakes annual meeting last month in Wadena. That print now hangs in his home alongside many other dairy awards.
Bernstetter doesn't plan to make any more significant changes to his dairy farm in the near future. He'll just keep doing what he's been doing - producing milk that meets the highest quality standards.