June 28, 2021 at 3:45 p.m.
NEW AUBURN, Wis. – Sometimes doing things a bit differently is exactly the way that might work the best. Thinking outside of the box and embracing unconventional management systems has suited Tom Moos and Deb Jakubek well on their Chippewa County organic dairy farm.
Moos and Jakubek milk 35 cows in New Auburn with Moos’ son, Austin, 6, and Jakubek’s children, Colton, 17, and McKenna, 14. Moos has operated the farm for nearly 20 years. Jakubek joined him two years ago.
The farm consists of 100 acres of pasture and another 135 acres of hay ground. Because the topography lent itself to grazing, Moos made the transition to organic dairy farming in 2005. Over the years, he looked to less labor-intense management systems to operate his farm and eventually became grass fed, milking once a day and using nurse cows to raise calves.
“This farm is either blessed or cursed with a lot of rock, and I planned on doing a lot of grazing anyway,” Moos said. “Organic seemed to be a good fit since we planned to do a lot of pasturing anyway.”
Much of the herd is bull bred, although they have started using some A.I. Cows are bred to Fleckvieh and Normande to capture and build on the grazing genetics of those breeds.
“They are good dual-purpose animals,” Jakubek said. “With grass fed and organic, keeping condition on the animals is really important. A fat cow on grass is a lot different from a fat cow on corn as far as metabolic issues and things like that. We try to breed for the invisible cow, the one who never has problems. She just does her thing, day in and day out.”
Labor issues led Moos to further commit to the grazing lifestyle in the summer of 2016, when he secured a contract with Organic Valley. The cows graze during the summer and are fed dry hay and baleage during the non-grazing months.
“I had a milker that took a job in town, and that was when I first started looking at once-a-day milking,” Moos said. “I needed to simplify what I could with no help. I talked to the field rep, and he suggested the grass-fed route.”
As luck would have it, a neighbor offered to milk cows, so Moos went forward with the transition to grass-fed production and continued milking twice a day.
Milking once a day continued to roll around in the back of Moos’ mind. In the fall of 2019, Moos’ milker quit, prompting the decision that the time might be right to make the change.
“I told Deb what I was thinking, figuring she would think I was crazy,” Moos said. “Instead, she agreed it made sense. We decided we needed to try it for at least a year before making a decision whether or not it was right for us.”
Milking once a day led to unexpected benefits in addition to decreased labor, including decreased inputs in the areas of electric and dairy supplies.
“The pump is only running once a day; the compressor runs less without that second milking each day to cool down; we use half the amount of soap and milkhouse washing detergents,” Moos said. “That all adds up pretty quickly.”
Most importantly for the couple, the cows handled the transition with few issues, and they had the herd transitioned by the end of November.
“We started by transitioning all the later lactation cows, and anything that calved in we started on once-a-day (milking),” Moos said. “We dropped some in overall production, but the components went up, and we did not have any dramatic changes in our somatic cell count.”
Following their transition to once-a-day milking, Moos and Jakubek began using nurse cows to raise their calves.
“We use the higher somatic cell count cows or cows with mastitis issues as nurse cows,” Jakubek said. “It gives them an opportunity for a second career.”
Moos and Jakubek have been happy with their calves being raised on the nurse cows. Last summer, they began leaving the calves with the cows full time. With the onset of winter, they had concerns for the possibility of frozen teats, so they decided to remove the calves and allow them access to the cows once a day. Each nurse cow is run through the parlor on a regular basis so they can check teats and udder health. Cows that are not recurrent high somatic cell count cows will rejoin the milking string if there are not as many calves to feed.
The management changes Moos and Jakubek have made have been the right fit for them, allowing them to continue dairy farming while experiencing a good quality of life off the farm. In addition to school activities for their children, they enjoy spending time exploring the area on their motorcycle.
“When I moved here to the farm, my kids decided to finish up their high school careers in Amherst, so I spend a lot of time going back and forth for their activities,” Jakubek said. “That leaves Tom here alone quite a bit. Milking once a day just makes it more manageable.”
Moos continues to hold firm in his belief that dairy farming is not a one-size-fits all, right or wrong enterprise. Instead, he encourages others to look at their farm’s goals and priorities and find what works best.
“We might have a bit lower production, but we have way lower inputs,” Moos said. “That makes a big difference in the bottom line. It’s not necessarily about pounds in the tank; it’s more about dollars in the bank. If we can be profitable dairy farming this way and enjoy life, that sounds like the best of both worlds to me.”
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