September 5, 2017 at 3:32 p.m.
This Green County farm near Blanchardville, Wis., relies on grazing. But the Truttmanns also feed a total mixed ration (TMR). There's a modern freestall barn, a stand-alone milking parlor, manure storage, and a small Harvestore silo, too. That's something of an unusual combination for a grass-based farm.
But Dan, a slender half-Swiss, half-Norwegian, said the setup works well.
"We've always had one foot in both systems - grazing and confinement," said Dan. "All along, we've been weaving around a little bit, trying to find where we were most comfortable directing our resources and getting the best return."
The Truttmanns milk 170 cows on 380 acres owned and 150 rented. Close to half the owned land is pasture. Besides grasses and legumes, the crops are alfalfa and corn for silage.
Truttmann Farm was established in 1899, and Dan is the fifth generation on it. Until 1993, the farm operated pretty much the way it had for years. The cows were milked in a stanchion barn, and a barn cleaner took manure to a spreader.
Dan came home to farm with his parents, Dwight and Dianna, in 1990, after earning a dairy science degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. A year later, he and Shelly married.
"We were milking 60 cows in a typical red dairy barn. We needed an expansion plan - a low-cost way to start generating more cash so we could support two families. Sixty cows in a labor-intensive system wasn't cutting it," Dan said.
Grazing seemed like a solution. So in 1993, Dan and his parents formed a partnership and began adding cows and calving a little more seasonally, to get more milk during the summer grazing season.
By 1995, the Truttmann herd was up to 100 cows, and it was time to stop milking in the stanchion barn. Now, after 17 years of twice daily milkings, the swing-14 milking parlor that they built looks almost new.
The building lies a hundred yards down a curving, gravel driveway from the old barn. It was built in a hay field, with room left to add on. The parlor and freestall barn are atop the same hill as the farmhouse, where there's often a cooling breeze and drainage is not a problem.
A parlor retrofitted into the existing barn was briefly considered. But, "It's a very old barn, with stone walls and a low ceiling," Dan said. "It would require extensive work to make it usable."
Until they hired an employee, Dan and his father milked in the parlor. At one time, they offered the cows grain in the parlor. But that ceased "the first time corn got to $6 a bushel," said Dan. "I didn't like dumping an equal pile in front of every cow and having the low producers hog from the high ones."
The three-row freestall barn went up near the parlor in 1998, when the milking herd had grown to 140. It was intended as a place to feed extra forage during the summer, and for winter housing.
But the Truttmanns have found the freestall barn useful for managing heat stress, too. On the hottest, most-humid days, the cows can come inside. At night, they go out to paddocks, where they can graze, spread out, and cool down.
Stalls are bedded with dried manure solids on top of mattresses. Dan was using sawdust, but now buys the manure solids from a farm in Illinois.
"Stall maintenance and cleanliness are extremely important," Dan said. "We like using the solids on mattresses rather than in a deep bed, where you could get a lot more bacterial growth. We pile the solids in the front, then as they work their way back and get soiled, they're taken out."
The freestall barn made manure storage necessary. Truttmann Farm has a 600,000-gallon lagoon that's emptied twice a year.
Dan's farm lies in the midst of rural housing. Each home has two or three acres with it.
"As soon as you cross into Green County, you know it by the houses. Dane county has zoning and Green County doesn't. The towns weren't prepared with good land use policies," Dan said.
To try to help guide land use, Dan has been a supervisor for the Town of York for six years. Even though he has many nonfarm neighbors, his farm blends in well.
"Most of [the neighbors] appreciate what we do," Dan said. "They like the view of cows on pasture, and we try to be good neighbors and not make too much noise or smell."
Dan is not trying to cut costs every place he can. He feeds a full TMR in the winter, but as the grazing season starts, the cows get small breaks on grass. At the same time, he starts cutting back on the amount of haylage he feeds, while continuing to feed the same amount of grain and corn silage. Dan also makes sure each cow gets two or three pounds of dry hay in the TMR each day.
Why does Dan farm the way he does, using a blend of grazing and confinement methods?
Dan considered transitioning to organic production, but decided the farm did not have enough land to support his number of cows. And he "didn't think it would be economically wise to downsize the herd just to be organic," he said.
"We didn't have the acreage to even provide all the forage we needed in an organic system," Dan said. "We would've been locked into buying high-priced grain."
He was feeding comparatively little grain at that time, to try to keep costs down. But the farm's income over feed cost was lower, too.
"I just didn't see the advantage of lower production, even at the lower input costs," Dan said.
About five years ago, Dan began feeding his cattle more. He also began a push for better genetics.
With his previous breeding program, "Our lower-producing cows were getting fat, and our higher-producing cows were underfed," Dan said. "Yes, it costs us more to put feed into the cows, but we get double that back in extra production."
The herd averages about 21,000 pounds of milk, on twice-a-day milking with no BST, Dan said. The butterfat average is around 900 pounds per cow and the protein average is 700 pounds per cow. That works out to a 4.4 percent fat test and a 3.4 percent protein test, according to Dan.
"We measure the cows based on solids, because that's what we're paid for," Dan said. "Herd average doesn't mean much."
True, the herd average is some 2,000 pounds lower than when the Truttmanns solely fed a TMR and the cows were not grazed. But, said Dan, the (fat and protein) test was a lot lower then.
Today's 21,000-pound average is made by cows that are deeply crossbred. With the foray into grazing, the grade Holsteins were bred to Brown Swiss and Jerseys at first. In the meantime, five or more other breeds have been included.
Even so, Dan said, "Our most profitable cross has always been Holstein-Jersey."
Because of that, Dan is moving toward an all-Jersey herd by using solely semen from Jersey bulls. He has two main goals for his revised breeding program: More solids in the milk and cows that fit better in his facilities.
He said, "Milk production has become more of a focus lately, as margins got tighter and feed costs went up. Our facilities are getting more and more crowded, so the last few years we've been looking real hard at solids production. We've been culling heavier. We want to keep the ones that are moving us forward."
Dan wants cows that are more uniform, too. He said, "At the end of milking one day, I had four cows lined up, and it was just like stairsteps, all the way from a just-fresh heifer that couldn't have been over 800 pounds to a 2,000-pound behemoth. At the front and the rear, neither of them fit properly in the parlor."
His shift in breeding includes using sexed semen on his higher-value cows.
Although Truttmann Farm has one full-time employee and three who are part-time, it's still very much a family business. When she's home from her job as an aide in the New Glarus School District, Shelly shares the calf feeding duties with Dan's mother, Dianna. Dwight, Dan's father, feeds, beds and is the "manure manager," said Dan.
Shelly and Dan's children work on the farm when they're not in school. Alayna is 16, while the twins, Mark and Jonathon, are 13.
Along with moving to a Jersey herd, Dan has other changes in mind. He expects to be milking 215 in June, so an addition to the freestall barn is likely. Dan will probably cease using the Harvestore, too, instead relying on plastic bags to store snaplage.
Dan credits his father for much of the farm's success. For one thing, his dad encouraged Dan to earn a four-year college degree.
Attending UW-Madison did not steer him to grazing, but, "It certainly opened up my mind to all types of farming operations and always trying to be progressive and taking science and economics into account," Dan said.
He said, "It changed the way I farm - the way I live. It really just opened up my mind."
More changes are not unlikely at Truttmann Farm. "We're always trying," said Dan, "to find the right balance for maximum productivity."[[In-content Ad]]