September 5, 2017 at 3:32 p.m.
"My great-grandfather purchased this farm in 1882," said Jim Tentinger, patriarch at Ten-Ayr Dairy. "He was a land speculator who started on the east coast and worked his way west, buying and selling land as he went. He must have done pretty well because when he died, each of his six kids got a quarter section of land."
Jim and his wife, Sharon, met in high school and recently celebrated their 40th anniversary. The couple has two sons, Travis and Craig. Travis has joined the Tentinger dairy farm operation. He and his wife, Kelly, have four children: Samantha (17), Hunter (13), Torey (8) and Tiara (4).
Craig lives in Wayne, Neb. where he is employed at Great Dane Trailers. He and his wife, Ann, have a daughter, Araya (2), and are expecting their second child in February.
"My grandfather got his start by farming this land for his father," said Jim. "Grandpa began milking cows on this farm in the 1920s. The first Ayrshire came to the farm in 1950 when my dad, Roman, bought an Ayrshire cow because he thought she was pretty. Grandpa wasn't pleased at first. But then they found out that Ayrshires don't eat as much as Holsteins."
Jim and his brother, Bill, took over the farming operation from their father in 1976. While the brothers continue to grain farm together, Bill has opted to concentrate on the hog side of the operation. Jim and Sharon chose to focus on the dairy herd, which started out as half Holsteins and half Ayrshires. Jim and Sharon decided to go to all Ayrshire and had switched over to 100 percent registered Ayrshires by the mid-1980s.
"The Ayrshire breed has a reputation as being hyper, but we have found that isn't the case," Jim said. "A lot of people like to show Ayrshires because they are both docile and fancy. People will buy an Ayrshire from us just for her pretty markings."
Ten-Ayr Dairy has grown steadily over the years and is currently milking about 180 head. The milking herd is bedded with sand and is milked in a double-9 parlor that was custom built for them by a neighbor. Their milking parlor is housed in a barn that was originally built in 1889.
The Tentingers raise all their own replacement heifers. They also run a beef operation where they fatten out all their Ayrshire steers, along with some purchased Holstein steers.
The Tentingers' devotion to improving their herd's genetics has been rewarded in the show ring. Their animals have brought home top awards from such prestigious dairy cattle shows as the Iowa State Fair and World Dairy Expo.
But, dedication to their family and their dairy is by no means the only place where the Tentingers shine. They have given back to their community by serving on numerous boards. One in particular stands out.
"I was appointed to the Midwest Dairy Association state board nine years ago," said Jim. "I am now also a member of the MDA corporate board."
MDA represents over 9,500 dairy farmers located in ten Midwestern states. Check-off dollars collected from dairy farmer members are used to promote the consumption of dairy products.
"Our job in the MDA is to get the most we can out of our check-off dollars," Jim said, who has also been a board member of the National Ayrshire Breeders Association for the past six years. "We have worked with such food providers as McDonald's, Dominos Pizza and Quaker Oats. We are constantly looking for ways to improve fluid milk sales and dairy consumption. Serving on the MDA board has been very exciting and enjoyable."
But the Tentingers' dairy promotional efforts don't end there.
"Each fall for the past 18 years, we have hosted school tours of our dairy farm," Sharon said. "We'll have six different school tour us with a total of about 350 third and fourth grade kids."
Many of the schoolchildren are lacking knowledge about the dairy industry, even though they might live on a farm or in a rural area.
"We tell the kids that we are going to teach them where their food comes from," said Sharon. "We also explain that there's a big difference between being a farmer and being a livestock producer. We talk about how we care for our cows' health, how we treat our cows humanely and how we make sure that the cows eat a balanced diet. We have Tentinger Challenger Sammie, one of our top cows, on our brochure and explain to the kids how she employs a lot of people such as the milk truck driver, our dairy nutritionist and our veterinarian. The list goes on and on."
Most of the children who visit Ten-Ayr Dairy are totally unaware of the amount of dedication it takes to be a dairy producer.
"We tell them that the cows have to be fed and milked every day, no matter what," said Sharon. "The cows still need to be cared for even if we're having a thunderstorm or a blizzard."
Sharon serves on the board of The Ayrshire Breeders Foundation Fund, which was first established in 2012.
"The Ayrshire Breeders Foundation Fund was established to help keep the breed viable," said Sharon. "We also want to keep our youth involved and educate them about the breed. Part of our efforts will include genomic research, which will explore why Ayrshire milk has superior butterfat and protein. Ayrshires are known for easy calving and having a low SCC. Because of these traits, Ayrshires can be a good fit for larger dairy operations."
In the midst of all these activities, dedication to family remains the top priority at Ten-Ayr Dairy.
"One of our greatest joys is watching as one of our grandkids steps into the show ring for the first time," said Jim. "If Hunter decides to join the operation some day, he will be the sixth generation of our family on this farm."