September 5, 2017 at 3:32 p.m.

Louisiana dairy: long heritage, quality products

Kleinpeter Farms Dairy celebrates its centennial this year
Carrying on a Louisiana tradition are Jeff Kleinpeter and his sister, Sue Ann Kleinpeter Cox. They’re in charge of Kleinpeter Farms Dairy, founded in 1913. The company owns and milks 600 Guernseys, Jerseys and Holsteins and buys milk from 20 other dairy farms. The milk is packaged and sold in grocery stores, as is the company’s ice cream.<br /><!-- 1upcrlf -->PHOTO SUBMITTED
Carrying on a Louisiana tradition are Jeff Kleinpeter and his sister, Sue Ann Kleinpeter Cox. They’re in charge of Kleinpeter Farms Dairy, founded in 1913. The company owns and milks 600 Guernseys, Jerseys and Holsteins and buys milk from 20 other dairy farms. The milk is packaged and sold in grocery stores, as is the company’s ice cream.<br /><!-- 1upcrlf -->PHOTO SUBMITTED

By By Ron Johnson- | Comments: 0 | Leave a comment

BATON ROUGE, La. - Sweet potato pie ice cream? That's just one of 55 flavors offered by Louisiana's only ice cream maker: Kleinpeter Farms Dairy.
"It's unbelievable, but here in Louisiana, you've got to understand, we have a different culture for cuisine and food and delicacies," said Jeff Kleinpeter president of Kleinpeter Farms Dairy. "And we have so many locally grown fruits and other things that we incorporate in our ice cream."
Louisiana cane sugar is a vital part of all the dairy's ice cream. Locally grown products like sweet potatoes and Bergeron's Pecans find their way into the dessert, too.
Kleinpeter Farms Dairy has been in business in the Pelican State since 1913. That's when Jeff's grandfather decided the best opportunity for the diversified operation near Baton Rouge lay in dairying.
"We were into many things at the time," said Jeff. "We were the first to have a steam-powered cotton gin in Louisiana. We had a sweet potato farming operation, with our own dehydration plant right by the railroad track. We shipped sweet potatoes and cotton bales to New Orleans (about 60 miles south), and grew sugar cane, too."
Early on, the dairy sent cream by rail to New Orleans. Today, the dairy supplies customers within about a 200-mile radius of its processing plant.
Jeff and his sister, Sue Anne Kleinpeter Cox, the chief financial officer, are the fourth generation of the family to own the business. It's a split operation, with the dairy farm 40 miles away, near the Saint Helena Parish community of Pine Grove.
Kleinpeter Farms Dairy almost left the family in 1987. Jeff's four uncles had a deal nearly inked to sell it to the grocery chain A&P. But the deal fell through, and Jeff's father, Ben, bought it instead.
A big change did come in 1982. That's when the Kleinpeters closed the original dairy farm and quit milking.
"The Interstate came through and basically cut our farm in half," Jeff said. The area grew, and the newcomers "didn't like smelling the cows anymore, and the manure. It got harder and harder to go to different fields and grow our crops, especially with the traffic that was coming along. I remember when we used to walk our cows along the side of the road to move them to different pastures."
The decision to close the farm and focus on dairy processing and distribution was "tremendously painful," said Jeff. But with decades of dairy farming in their blood, the Kleinpeters decided to start anew.
A dozen years ago, they bought 1,000 acres, along with bred Guernsey heifers. Today, that farm is at 1,100 acres and is home to 600 Guernsey, Jersey and Holstein cows. That blend of breeds together produces the flavor of milk the Kleinpeters like.
The cows are milked twice a day in a double-12, rapid-exit, herringbone parlor. Along with cow transponders for identification, and automatic mastitis detection in the parlor, the farm recently bought a portable ultrasound machine. It lets workers detect pregnancies earlier and find cows with cystic ovaries.
Jeff is pleased with the herd's average daily milk production - 64 pounds a day, with a 4.1 percent butterfat test. "That's outstanding for Louisiana," he said. "We work hard for that."
To augment the supply of milk it bottles, makes into ice cream and ice cream mixes, the business buys milk from 20 private farms that Jeff likes to call "partner farms." Kleinpeter Farms Dairy has its own tanker trucks to pick up that milk. Jeff estimated that his company buys anywhere from 75 to 83 percent of the milk it processes, depending on the time of year.
Winter is the prime season for milk production in Louisiana. That's because May through September, with heat and humidity, are still nowhere in sight.
"It's not unusual for us to have 85 percent humidity and 95 to 100 degrees in the summertime," Jeff said.
To cool the cows, the freestall barns are equipped with fans that switch on at 70 degrees Fahrenheit. There's a misting system at the feedbunk that sprays the cows' shoulders and fans in the holding area, as well. Because of the heat and humidity, the Kleinpeters time the breeding so calves are not born June through August.
Paying attention to cow comfort, with things like rubber mats for the cows to stand on at the feedbunk, access to pasture, and the cow cooling efforts, has earned the farm recognition from the American Humane Association. During the last four years, Kleinpeter Farms Dairy has gotten four perfect scores.
"We really embrace that American Humane Association philosophy," Jeff said.
For crops, Kleinpeter Farms Dairy grows corn, sorghum, oats, millet, winter wheat and grass hay. The area's climate allows for three crops a year on the same ground. For example, the Kleinpeters can grow two crops of corn annually. Jeff was looking forward to starting corn planting around April 1.
That part of Louisiana gets about five inches of rain a month. Plus, the farm irrigates the freestall barns' wastewater onto cropland.
Although he's the company president, Jeff likes to roll up his sleeves and drive tractors on the farm. So does his nephew, Stanford Ponson, who is part of the fifth generation of the family in the business. Jeff's daughter, Taylor, is soon to graduate from Southeast Louisiana University and will work for the company this summer.
An important part of the farm is manager Mike Price. Thanks to him and the other employees, Jeff doesn't really need to visit the place much. But he likes to walk through the barns and see the cows. He also enjoys giving schools tours of the farm and processing facility.
A special attraction at the farm is Sweetie Pie. She's a Jersey cow that was born with a white patch in the shape of a heart between her eyes. A heart happens to be Kleinpeter Farms Dairy's logo, used on its packages. The Kleinpeters have been using the cow and the births of her calves to encourage people to donate to an area animal shelter.
The white heart on Sweetie Pie's head is so perfect that it looks as though someone painted it there.
"I'm telling you, it took me a lot of time to do that, man. I get accused of that, but I didn't," Jeff said.
Since this year is the centennial of Kleinpeter Farms Dairy, special events are planned for May through July. One is the introduction of a special, four percent butterfat milk in an old-timey container.
Meanwhile, the farm will likely keep growing. Good farmland is going for $4,000 an acre, according to Jeff.
"Every time acreage comes up for sale, we buy it, because we need it and we really don't want another subdivision right next to our farm, and people complaining that they heard a cow mooing last night," Jeff said.
Although he has concerns about the state of the dairy industry as a whole, and the fact that Louisiana is down to about 120 farms, from some 1,500 a decade ago, Jeff is optimistic about Kleinpeter Farms Dairy.
"Quality, customer service and value mean a lot to us," he said. "I'm excited about the future. I think we've got great things ahead of us."
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