June 14, 2021 at 1:44 p.m.

Getting his farm back on track

Jones invests in profitability-driven improvements
Heifer calves at Krescent Valley Dairy are housed in this area created in 2014 to house calves ages 2 to 6 months old and features headlocks, fans and hutches. PHOTO BY STACEY SMART
Heifer calves at Krescent Valley Dairy are housed in this area created in 2014 to house calves ages 2 to 6 months old and features headlocks, fans and hutches. PHOTO BY STACEY SMART

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

RICHFIELD, Wis. – After nearly five years of fighting to stay afloat, Krescent Valley Dairy is seeing better days. Things are turning around for Charlie Jones as he continues investing in his farm’s future. Putting the COVID-19 relief money he received from the government last year to good use, this sixth-generation farmer did not waste the chance to better his operation.  

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“We found opportunities to reposition ourselves and used the money in a way that would make our farm profitable again,” Jones said.
Jones, who milks 150 cows and farms around 250 acres near Richfield, has kept the family farm that was founded in 1853 going through thick and thin. After bringing cows back to the farm in 2011, Jones updated and expanded over a 10-year time period. He built a freestall barn, doubled the size of his milking parlor, grew his herd nearly five times over and made improvements designed to enhance efficiency and convenience. He also increased milk production by 30 pounds per cow. However, the decade was not without struggles. Low milk prices and the loss of a large group of cows he purchased that did not pan out set Jones back for several years.
“Looking back, I’m not sure if I would do this again,” said Jones about his decision to farm. “But once you’re on a moving train, you can’t jump off.”
 Farming skipped a generation in Jones family. He was 10 years old when his grandparents, Gordon and Karen Kraemer, sold the milking herd in 2001.
“The cows were here one day and gone the next,” said Jones, who looked forward to the day he could turn the farm back into a dairy operation. “I always wanted to farm.”
Even though his parents moved to the farm after his grandparents moved down the road, Jones’ folks were not dairy farmers. His dad, Bob, owned a small business that manufactured and installed industrial control panels for food and beverage processing, and his mom, Michelle, drove bus and served school lunch.
Michelle continues to drive bus while also working full time at Costco in addition to helping her son on the farm nearly every day. His parents own the farm, but Jones and his wife, Kristin, live on the farm and own the cattle and most of the machinery. Kristin works full time at a distribution center in Germantown and feeds calves weekday nights and weekend mornings.
Jones has two full-time employees – Dalton Stark and Dakota Holms. Stark feeds and does machinery maintenance and field work, and Holms is the main nighttime milker. Jones’ part-time milking crew includes brothers Sam and Mitchell Lohry, Kolby Bohling and Mara Sakac.
Jones named the farm Krescent Valley Dairy, and in 2014, he updated the dry cow barn, changing from a bedded pack to free stalls while also putting in drive-by feeding. He installed headlocks in his heifer housing and doubled the size of his freestall barn. Jones went from milking 80 cows to milking 130.
“I bought what I thought was a nice group of cows, but 40 of them were junk,” Jones said. “A year later, there were only five left. After the expansion, I had one month of good prices before things fell apart. We had four to five tough years and had no money to replace the cows we lost.”
Jones milked a little over 100 cows for a couple years while waiting for his heifers to calve.
During the tough times, Jones and his mom did the brunt of the chores, with help from some nighttime milkers and Jones’ wife on the weekends.
“Chores took forever,” Jones said.
Jones saw a turnaround toward the end of 2019, but then COVID-19 struck in 2020. The silver lining of the pandemic for Jones came in the form of relief money from the government.
Jones took advantage of the financial assistance given to farmers through various programs, viewing it as an opportunity to put the farm back on a profitable path. Jones was deliberate in his spending, investing in technologies and facilities to help improve his business.
Jones put in a bigger parlor, turning his step-up double-4 into a double-8.
“The bigger parlor has made life a lot easier,” Jones said. “It used to take five hours to milk. Now it only takes about two. It’s also better for the cows because they don’t have to stand around so long.”
Jones bought a robotic feed pusher, and milk production went up 8 to 10 pounds per cow per day as a result.
“The feed pusher made a huge difference,” Jones said. “In the past, there was no one there to push in feed from 10 p.m. to 7 a.m. Now, the feed pusher is running all the time, and the cows always have feed. They’re milking good. We’re almost at 90 pounds per cow. When I first started farming, I was at 60 pounds. It’s been quite the journey that way.”
Jones also hired a farm marketing firm last year to offer guidance with milk contracts and feed inputs.
“Buying options saved our butt this year,” said Jones, who also bought a year’s worth of corn in advance.
In addition, Jones replaced the tiestall barn’s original wood floor.
“We always try to do something to keep the buildings up,” Jones said. “Every generation here has done a good job of that.”
Jones will have his cows paid off by the end of this year and has also hired more people to make the workload more manageable for him and his family. Jones endured a long slump, but he had the grit to stick it out and is seeing success again. Reaching a point where profits are exceeding losses, Jones continues to beautify the family farm while boosting productivity and profitability.


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