September 5, 2017 at 3:32 p.m.
Both Jeff and Melinda grew up on dairy farms. Melinda attended Iowa State University for dairy science and Jeff majored in animal science at South Dakota State University. They met through a mutual friend.
Jeff and Melinda were married in July of 2007. At that time, Jeff was farming with his parents, Mike and Debbie Walz, near Monona, Iowa. They decided that fall to move to the West Union area where Melinda had grown up and start dairy farming on their own.
They moved into her childhood home, renting it from her dad, Allen Mittelsted, and they rented a dairy barn about five miles away from a retired farmer. They started milking about 20 cows and soon filled the 40 stanchion barn to capacity.
In 2009 the Walzes lost their home and all their possessions to a house fire that occurred while they were taking care of their cows during morning milking. They built a new home on Melinda's home farm, in a different location than where the old house had been.
In 2010, Jeff's dad and uncle sold their cows and the couple saw their herd size increase by another 25 cows.
"We knew right away that we had to do something," Jeff said. "Switching cows all the time wasn't going to work."
Melinda, who had been working as a DHIA milk tester since January 2007, quit that job in April of 2010 due to the increased workload with their milking herd.
Last year they took the plunge and arranged financing through their bank and FSA and started building a new dairy facility from the ground up. Jeff said their bank works really well with farmers. With their equity, along with working with FSA, they did not have any problems getting the loan.
They built a 160-cow freestall barn and attached 56- by 80-foot area which includes a swing-10 parlor, holding area and office. Construction started in August, and they moved their herd on Dec. 8, 2011.
Jeff said a swing parlor made sense for them.
"We wanted something that was not expensive up front, but big enough to pay for itself. We wanted a parlor we could profit from," he said.
Melinda added, "Plus the two of us can handle chores. We don't have to bring in other help if we don't want to."
They are now milking 150 cows in the parlor in about the same amount of time it took them to milk 65. Their herd, mainly Holsteins with a few Jerseys and Ayrshires, is bedded with sand.
The cows are much more comfortable, not just because of the sand bedding, but because they are able to move around easier than they could in the small stanchion stalls in the old barn.
"It's very quiet in the barn," Jeff said. "They are very comfortable."
They were feeding TMR in the old barn, but it is much more convenient now. They used to drive the mixer up to the barn and unload the TMR into a wheelbarrow to take it into the barn to put in front of the stanchions. Now Jeff can drive through with the mixer. Much of their feed the Walzes raise on 320 acres, where they grow corn and alfalfa.
The Walzes are currently milking a lot of late lactation cows (they are in the process of drying up about 40 cows) and they are confident their production will go up when those cows come back into the milking herd.
In both the old and new facilities the Walzes have maintained a somatic cell count of less than 150,000. The desire to keep the SCC low was part of why they chose to go with sand bedding.
They did not build any manure confinement as part of the project and instead haul manure on an almost daily basis. This spring Jeff did construct a system which allows him to store manure for up to two weeks when needed.
They like having the option of hiring employees, and they do currently have some part-time help. One high school girl works for them at night, and a young man milks when he is not busy custom baling or hauling manure for others.
Jeff and Melinda said they do not have anything major that they would change if they had to do their building project over again.
"I love that we are able to walk out of the house and we are there, with no driving," Melinda said.
Jeff said he loves that the labor is a lot less intense and having everything in one location.
For other young people looking to get into dairying or looking to build, Melinda recommended they talk to a lot of people who are currently farming. She said she had the opportunity to talk with many producers when she was a milk tester.
"Go see their farms and ask questions," Melinda said.
Jeff agreed, adding, "If we didn't have family behind us it would be a lot tougher to do what we have done."[[In-content Ad]]