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

Schultes prepare for future of organic farm

From left, Leo, Keith, and Adam Schulte, built a new 216-stall freestall barn and a 1.5 million gallon manure pit on their farm near Dorchester, Iowa. The Schultes are certified organic dairy producers.
From left, Leo, Keith, and Adam Schulte, built a new 216-stall freestall barn and a 1.5 million gallon manure pit on their farm near Dorchester, Iowa. The Schultes are certified organic dairy producers.

By by Kelli Boylen- | Comments: 0 | Leave a comment

DORCHESTER, Iowa - The Schultes were operating an organic farm for years before anyone even used the term. Now, this dairy operated by two generations is preparing for the future with a new freestall barn.
Keith and Leo Schulte remember milking cows by hand when they were kids. The family had one Jersey for their own milk, and then got a second cow so they would have milk year-round. One year, both cows freshened at the same time so they had extra milk to sell. The milk was put into cans, kept cold with spring water in an old cistern and a cousin who hauled milk would pick it up. They figured if they were selling milk they may as well get a few more cows. In 1972, when the brothers were 16 and 18, they started milking cows as part of their farming operation and LKS Jerseys had its start.
The barn hadn't been milked in for 16 years. They dug out the old equipment, got things working and milked before and after school.
Within a few years, they added to the back side of the barn so they had 31 stalls. They added a barn cleaner and a pipeline. In 1981, they built a 156-foot long tie-stall barn, 66 feet of which had a second story which was used to store small square bales of hay until they switched to big squares in 1989.
In 1997, they put a double-10 parlor in the old tie stall barn and converted another barn to freestalls. That was a busy year, but that doesn't compare at all to the chaos they had going on this summer.
Keith says he had been tossing around the idea of putting in a new freestall barn for their Jersey herd for nearly 10 years. Last fall they decided to go for it. They weren't able to get much done last fall, so things really started moving along this spring.
Late spring and early summer were very wet in Northeast Iowa this year, and spring planting was very late. Over the last few months, they had three silos, the original barn they milked in, a chicken coop, a windmill, a granary and an old building once used as a horse barn torn down, and a new 216-stall freestall put up along with a 1.5 million gallon manure pit. To add to the craziness, one of Keith's sons was married in June.
The Schultes wanted a barn where weather would not be a factor in how they cared for their cows. They designed a barn with tunnel ventilation which gives them more control.
In the old barn, the cows were fed outside. The new barn has feeding in the center of the barn with concrete J-channel bunks. With the bunks the Schultes do not have to worry about pushing up feed or mud being tracked into the barn by the skidloader when pushing up feed.
"The cows are fed until I feed them again," Keith said, referring to the fact that the TMR is never out of reach of the cows.
The floor of the bunk is sealed with epoxy and the cows keep it pretty clean. Keith said they only have to sweep it out every week or two.
They were using sand in their old freestall barn, and they have now switched to dual-chamber waterbeds.
The cows were uncertain of the feeling of the waterbeds at first and they were nervous about them. Now, the cows that are used to them really love them. They are using a little dry shavings with the mattresses now to help the cows adapt, but they hope to not use any bedding in the future. They were spending up to $1,600 per month on bedding, including sand for the freestalls and shavings for the cows kept outside so they would have a comfortable place to lie down.
"You'd swear in the summertime that the cows had shovels on their feet kicking the sand out of the stalls," said Adam, Keith's son.
In addition to the cost savings for the sand, the Schultes were able to chop their peas and oats for feed rather than combining the grain and using the straw for bedding.
The new 216-stall barn also features alley scrapers pulled by a chain, rubber matting in all the alleys for comfort and traction, cow brushes, and long-day lighting. The south side of the barn is polycarbonate to let in natural light and there are automatic curtains on the west end.  The barn is very well insulated; Leo said the contractor told him they blew in almost 10 tons of insulation in the ceiling and the north wall is insulated as well.
As a certified organic dairy, the cows need to have access to pasture and the barn is set up for them to come and go as they please.
The milking herd is rotationally grazed in the summer months. The Schultes own 665 acres, of which 410 is tillable. They rent another 54 tillable acres. They are able to grow most of their own feed.
In the early 1980s, Leo and Keith made the decision to not use any chemicals on their farm.
"The ground was in poor condition and we really didn't like what was happening with it," Leo recalled.
"We didn't call ourselves organic; that term really didn't exist," Keith said. "I remember we used anhydrous ammonia for two years and it hardened the ground. We knew we didn't want that. We've seen a great improvement in our soil over the years."
Keith said he can now drive down the road and tell if the soil is abused or not by looking at what is growing on it. They say they used to try to convince others to do things their way, but they now say that's their business to do things like they want.
The Schultes haven't purchased any cows since the 1970s and have been able to increase their herd size as they desired over the years. When they were in the tiestall barn they milked about 64 cows. When they switched to the parlor they were at about 80 cows and they now milk about 135. Keith AI breeds their cows.
Keith's son, Adam, graduated from high school in 2003. He earned a degree in history from the University of Northern Iowa and worked a two-thirds teaching position at Spring Grove, Minn. for a year. Adam lived at home that year, milking cows before and after school. He said it was the best thing that ever happened to him.
When the school informed him that his teaching position would be reduced to half-time the following year he decided to return to the farm full time.
"I never felt forced to come back to the farm. In fact I've always enjoyed farming. I was driving a tractor by the time I was in second grade. I hung around and I paid attention."
There is no specific division of labor on their farm and everyone just does what needs to be done. Adam and Keith usually milk. Keith's wife Jenette, is a teacher and helps out with milking as needed. With the new barn, the farm work will become much easier for the Schultes. [[In-content Ad]]


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