September 5, 2017 at 3:32 p.m.
"It's a way of life," Kamerman said. "This is something I've been able to build up on my own. I could never have gotten started in ag if I had gotten into beef or wheat farming; you don't have the steady cash flow ... it was my only opportunity to get into agriculture."
Kamerman owns and operates Cedar-K Dairy with his wife, Sandy, and their son and daughter-in-law, Daron and Tracy. Kamerman's daughter, Lindy, also works on the farm, serving as a full-time milker.
The dairy is located near Three Forks, Mt., just five miles south of the headwaters of the Missouri River in the Gallatin Valley. The Missouri River is to the north, the Madison River to the east and mountains or hills can be seen in all four directions from the dairy.
"Technically, we're in a high mountain valley," Kamerman said.
The Kamermans have owned Cedar-K Dairy since 1985, seven years after making their way into the industry in 1978 by dairying in a leased facility. When they bought their current farm, all that existed was an old single-4 parlor and an open shed for housing.
"The first thing we did was remodel the parlor," he said.
Today, the site boasts two large freestall barns and a double-6 herringbone parlor, where the Kamermans milk 275 of their 320-cow herd of registered Holsteins twice a day. The herd is currently averaging 24,000 pounds of milk, with butterfat at 3.5 percent and a BAA of 104.5.
"[Ours] is a pretty typical [Montana] dairy," Kamerman said of his setup. "There are a lot of herringbones around. There are no flat barns in Montana."
Cedar-K Dairy is in what Kamerman considers the 'dairy area' of the state. Montana is more traditionally known as a beef state, and the Gallatin Valley is a prime spot for seed potatoes.
"There are thousands of acres of potatoes in the Gallatin Valley," Kamerman said. "It's a bigger [industry] here than dairy; that's kind of dying in the valley."
While the dairy industry may have slimmed down over the years, there are still around 30 dairy producers in western Montana, with another 30-40 Hutterite colonies - all of which have their own dairy herds - scattered throughout the state. With some 50-60 cow dairies and others at 800-plus cows, the Kamermans' operation is around average.
The Kamermans raise their replacement heifers on site, starting them in individual hutches before transitioning them to group pens and then into large lots with wind breaks for shelter. Bred heifers are pastured on 200 acres, this year grazing for three months.
"It's a huge saving on the feed bill," Kamerman said of grazing.
The Kamermans farm 200 acres of their own land and lease another 50 acres, raising corn and alfalfa. The soil - light sandy loam on the hillsides and heavy clay on the bottom ground - is conducive for raising good crops in the area.
"This is good country for raising corn silage, potatoes, alfalfa and small grains," Kamerman said.
All the crops raised by the Kamermans are stored in ag bags. This year, the corn crop was excellent, and they were able to take three crops of alfalfa off the fields despite having no rain since June. They also purchase around 700 tons of dry alfalfa every year, along with 100 tons of good-quality grass hay from area farmers.
"This area is one of the best anywhere for buying quality alfalfa," Kamerman said. "The Gallatin Valley has good hay growers."
With annual rainfall averaging only eight inches, dry spells are typically in the Three Forks area of Montana. This year's dry spell, however, has been longer than usual. A wet spring and irrigation have helped push the crops along.
"All the dairy producers [around here] irrigate their land," Kamerman said. "If we planted corn and didn't irrigate, we would be lucky if it got 1.5 to 2 feet tall."
Irrigation water comes from snowfall caught in the surrounding mountains. Accumulating snow in the valley itself is not very common.
"We get snow from time to time but it doesn't stay," Kamerman said.
Typical winter temperatures drop to around 10 below in the Three Forks area; on rare occasions, Kamerman has seen the thermometer hit negative 30. Summers, on the other hand, average in the 80s, with the temperatures seldom rising over 90 degrees.
"And it's a dry heat," Kamerman said.
Because of this, heat abatement systems typically seen on Midwest dairy farms are not needed in Montana. Kamerman's sheds are designed to let heat out. Straw bedding is used to keep the cows comfortable year-round.
While the dry spells may be a downfall for farming, they are a plus for dairying, Kamerman said. Another perk is the infrastructure. Being in a heavy ag area, equipment dealers, parts and services are readily available - for machinery as well as dairy equipment. The local veterinarian is one of the best in the country, he said, and although the co-op in Bozeman, Mt., recently merged with NWD of Seattle, Wash., Kamerman feels they have a secure market.
With the second generation of the Kamerman family fully involved in the operation, the future of Cedar-K Dairy looks bright. This winter, they plan to remodel their parlor to a double-10 parallel to improve milking efficiency. Kamerman plans to stick with it for another 10 years or so and before fully handing the reins over to his children.
"It's just something I have [always] wanted to do," he said of dairying. "... I like what I'm doing."[[In-content Ad]]
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