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

Organic dairying atop Buffalo Ridge

Kallemeyn family sees organic dairy farming as a way to sustain their lifestyle and the environment
Dave Kallemeyn checks on the sunflower oil that was produced on his farm. Last fall, after harvesting a few acres of sunflowers, a press system from Organic Valley was loaned to the Kallemeyns. Their sunflower oil was mixed with additives and a dye, then stored in a plastic tote.  (photos by Jerry Nelson)
Dave Kallemeyn checks on the sunflower oil that was produced on his farm. Last fall, after harvesting a few acres of sunflowers, a press system from Organic Valley was loaned to the Kallemeyns. Their sunflower oil was mixed with additives and a dye, then stored in a plastic tote. (photos by Jerry Nelson)

By Jerry [email protected] | Comments: 0 | Leave a comment

HOLLAND, Minn. - The word "organic" means different things to different people. For Dave Kallemeyn and his family, organic dairying means maintaining a dairy farming lifestyle that also enables them to be good stewards of the environment.
"My grandfather purchased this farm from the railroad back in the 1930s," said Dave. He and his wife, Doreen, have four children: Sarah (22) works as a nurse in Oklahoma; Wade (20) is employed as a welder; Troy (16) is a high school student; and April (12) is in junior high school.
The Kallemeyn farm is perched atop Buffalo Ridge. Much of their land is composed of rocky hills that are topped by a patchwork of fertile flatlands. These flatland hilltops sport verdant fields of hay and row crops.
Dave, Doreen and their family farm a total of 700 acres. About 300 of those acres are pasture. They crop about 250 acres, raising corn, soybeans, alfalfa, barley, rye, and sunflowers. They recently rented an additional quarter section of CRP land that they plan to put up for hay.
The Kallemeyns began organic dairy farming five years ago at the behest of Merri Post, coordinator of the Southwest Minnesota Dairy Profit Group.
"Merri told us that we were nearly organic already and that we may as well make the switch," said Dave.
The Kallemeyns had been raising their hay organically and quit using pesticides on their pastureland. As such, they only had to purchase some organic corn to get them through the transition to organic dairying.
"I think the cows give more milk when they eat organic hay and corn," said Dave. "It used to be our butterfat would drop when we put the cows out on pasture in the spring. Now, our butterfat goes up. This spring, it increased by six-tenths of a percent after we put the milking herd back onto pasture."
At their peak the Kallemeyns milk about 90 cows. Their herd contains a rainbow of breeds including Holsteins, Jerseys, Milking Shorthorns, a smattering of Brown Swiss and one Dutch Belted.
Milking at the Kallemeyn farm is done in a 26-cow stanchion barn. When not out on pasture, their cows enjoy loose housing and a bedding pack made of ground corn stalks. A system of rotational grazing keeps their pastures productive. Dave and Doreen have fenced off the creeks in their pastures to help keep their cows' teats dry.
Teat health is given top priority. Immediately after milking, the Kallemeyns apply an iodine post dip. A powder made of finely ground corn is then applied to help dry and protect teat ends.
Even though the majority of their cows' nutritional needs are met with pasture and homegrown forages, the Kallemeyns sometimes have to supplement their herd's diet.
"We'll feed extruded soybeans if the cows need more protein," said Dave. "Organic soybeans are costing us $20 per bushel these days. Our nutritionist tells us that even at those prices, we are tripling our money by turning those soybeans into milk."
Another additive to their cows' diet is dried kelp.
"I think kelp has been a huge component for our herd's health," said Dave. "Kelp keeps the skin moist, which helps with mastitis. We feed kelp mixed with rock salt on a free choice basis."
Doreen and April handle calf care at the Kallemeyn farm, while Troy helps with milking and pitches in anyplace he's needed.
"We've learned that you have to keep the calves dry at all times," said Doreen. "This means starting them off with plenty of bedding and making sure that it's replenished often. We also make sure that they get plenty of milk."
"Since switching to organic, our calf death loss has dropped to almost nothing," said Dave. "I think organic farming produces stronger, healthier calves that are less apt to get sick. After we went organic, we no longer have problems with ringworm, pinkeye, or hairy warts. It's gotten so that we have too many replacement heifers, so we're looking at selling some cows to make room for the extra heifers."
The milking herd on the Kallemeyn farm is vaccinated regularly to help protect their calves against scours. The Kallemeyns group their calves according to size and raise them on pasture as much as possible.
The Kallemeyns' efforts have been rewarded. Each year since they made the switch to organic milk production, the Kallemeyns have received milk quality awards from Organic Valley Co-op, the company that buys their milk.
Like many farmers, the Kallemeyns had to deal with extremely wet conditions this past spring. This prompted them to try wrapping their big round bales of hay in plastic instead of their usual practice of chopping their first cutting.
"The field was so wet, there was no way we could pull a wagon across it without leaving deep tracks," said Dave.
His hay fields are seeded to a mixture of alfalfa, red clover, and five assorted grasses.
"We just fed our first few bales of hay that had been wrapped in plastic and the cows simply love it," said Dave. "There isn't a bit of spoilage in the bales and the hay smells good enough to eat yourself!"
Last year, the Kallemeyns raised a few acres of sunflowers. After the crop was harvested, the sunflower oil was extracted via a press and filtration system. Organic Valley had loaned this system to the Kallemeyns at no charge. The high-protein, high-fiber leftovers from the sunflower pressing process were then fed to their milking herd as a feed supplement.
"The oil press is part of Organic Valley's sustainability project," said Dave. "It was sort of an experiment for us. It's fun to know that we were able to grow some of our own fuel for our diesel engines.
"We're using the sunflower oil in one of our skid loaders and in one of our tractors. The boys think that those engines now have more power. I know for certain that they start better."
Dave and Doreen feel that organic dairying has played a key role in the continuing success of their operation.
"Organic dairy farming helped sustain us through periods of low milk prices," said Dave. "Troy wants to eventually join the operation and Wade is still thinking about it. I don't think that would be an option for either of them if we didn't have an organic dairy farm."[[In-content Ad]]


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