September 5, 2017 at 3:32 p.m.
Helmuth his wife, Susie, and their family farm 100 acres and milk about 15 cows by hand. Helmuth grew up on a dairy farm just a couple of miles from where he and his family now farm, and he said he has always enjoyed milking.
He bought their farm in 1999 and he kept busy with field work and training horses. They eventually had a few house cows the family milked for their own use.
"It was pretty much always my goal to ship milk to Organic Valley," he said. He sought the advice of other dairy farmers he thought did a good job. On the advice of Henry Hershberger, he bought all heifers to start out his herd, purchasing them from three different organic producers.
"We probably did not get as much milk that first year as we could have, but we got the quality," Helmuth said.
He started milking in the fall of 2011 as soon as his heifers started to freshen. Since his heifers were from organic herds, and he had never used chemicals on their farm, the milk was organic from day one.
Andy Helmuth said he didn't think his family was doing anything exceptional to produce quality milk, but they ended up being Organic Valley's 2012 Cream of the CROPP award winner for the cooperative's North Central quality region (The North Central Region includes Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota, and Wisconsin).
"The Helmuths got on the (Organic Valley) truck in the fall of 2011 and they won the quality award in 2012. They are supremely dedicated, listened to everything that was recommended to them and work very hard," said Joe Klein, Midwest South Region Pools Manager for Organic Valley.
Criteria for the Cream of the CROPP award include average somatic cell count, standard plate count and low preliminary incubation and laboratory pasteurized count averages. The Helmuths have a SCC average less than 87,000
It takes Andy, Susie and three of their children about an hour to milk their 14 cows in their tie stall barn which holds 18. They milk into buckets and the milk is then poured into a strainer and is filtered as it goes into their 300-gallon bulk tank. The bunk tank is cooled with a Thermo King cooling unit powered by a diesel engine (also called reefer units) which is commonly used on refrigerated semi trailers.
The Helmuths use an iodine-based teat dip that contains aloe vera both pre- and post- milking. They apply the product with a sprayer, and wait about 30 seconds before washing. The cows are washed with shop rags.
"It's important to get them really clean," Helmuth said.
The Helmuths dry up their herd in September and start freshening them back in the beginning of November. There are several reasons he chooses to dry up his herd during this time period, but one of the biggest reasons is that harvest is time consuming.
The Helmuths grow corn, soybeans, oats and some alfalfa. All of their field work is done with horses - from spring tillage to pulling the baler to harvesting the corn. When it's hay cutting time, the horses first pull a McCormick sickle mower. The horses then pull the rake and when the hay is ready a team of four horses pull the baler (powered by a 24-horse Honda motor instead of a PTO) and the wagon behind to load up the small squares.
They likely could grow most of the hay they need, but Helmuth says he has an affinity for grain farming. He ends up selling corn and beans and then uses that money to purchase hay. Generally, they have no issues locating organic hay in Northeast Iowa, and Organic Valley can help him locate more if needed.
When he can he purchases and feeds balage because the cows look good when they have it in their diet.
In the summer the cows are on pasture. They are also fed ground ear corn, oats, some protein from their own roasted soybeans depending on hay quality, some mineral and the cows have free choice salt and kelp.
"I know some say you can't afford to feed kelp, but, dollar for dollar, I don't think you can afford not to," he says. "If the kelp runs low I know it instantly because milk production goes down." He added that it also helps with body conditioning.
The cows also receive aloe pellets on a regular basis, especially in times of stress such as a heat wave.
"I don't feed it all the time, but feeding it is the first thing I do in times of stress," Helmuth said.
Helmuth has been able to avoid any serious illness in his herd, with the exception of one cow that got pneumonia the first winter because he was keeping the barn too warm. When a cow has a quarter flare up or some other issue, Helmuth doesn't hesitate to contact Organic Valley's Dr. Paul Detloff. In keeping with organic standards, he uses products such as CEG (cayenne, echinacea and garlic) and aloe liquid to keep the cows healthy.
They had some Jersey-Brown Swiss crossbreds which were their house cows, one of which is still in their herd. The rest of the herd is mostly Friesian-Holstein crosses. They breed with a bull.
Once all the cows freshen back into the herd, they will have about 20 cows milking. Helmuth said he likes milking in the winter. "I like to be in the warm barn and watch the snow out the window."
Andy trains 60 to 70 horses a year and people bring their horses to his farm from as far away as California and Texas. He has been training horses for about 25 years.
Susie, who also grew up on a dairy farm, handles the record keeping for the herd and they use the health record forms available through Organic Valley. The forms track breeding and calving information, stage of lactation, general treatment records and a mastitis treatment schedule.
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