November 15, 2021 at 2:03 p.m.
“I’ve been around dairy my whole life, and it’s something I wanted to continue doing,” Whiteaker said.
Whiteaker milks 60 Holstein, Jersey and crossbred cows in a tiestall barn near Mantorville; a farm he recently purchased from John Bierbaum. The young farmer also runs 40 tillable acres for corn silage.
Whiteaker’s day starts with milking at about 4:30 a.m. which usually takes him a couple hours. After milking, he feeds the calves, turns cows outside, cleans and beds the barn, mixes feed and feeds the youngstock.
The cows are ready to come back in around 2 p.m.
“I’ll bring them in and start milking again around 4 p.m.,” Whiteaker said.
Whiteaker grew up on his uncle’s dairy farm where his dad was the herdsman, and Whiteaker helped milk cows.
“When I was able to drive, I got jobs working at different farms in the area,” Whiteaker said.
Whiteaker started working for Willie and Karen Naatz who milked 250 cows near Mantorville. His main job was milking, feeding calves and scraping the barn.
“I continued working there in college when they let me start mixing some feed and doing a little more responsibilities,” said Whiteaker, who received a dairy science degree from Northeastern Iowa Community College in Calmar, Iowa, in 2012.
After college, Whiteaker took a herdsman job for Arlin Johnson who milked 160 cows near Kasson. While there, he took care of all the breeding, did more milkings, mixed feed and helped with fieldwork.
At the same time, Whiteaker bought a group of 20 2-month-old calves which he kept and raised at his dad’s place. Shortly after calving, he moved them to Johnson’s farm where they were milked.
“He let me bring cows in and keep cows there,” Whiteaker said. “I also got a lot of knowledge in cropping and fieldwork. I never had much knowledge in that growing up.”
Throughout the years, he continued to buy cows from other people or at sales.
“By the time I had 45 head I decided I wanted to try and find something to go on my own and do my own thing,” Whiteaker said.
As luck would have it, Whiteaker was able to get in touch with and work something out with Bierbaum, who sold his cows in May 2017. On July 1, 2017, Whiteaker was milking his herd in his recently-rented barn. Whiteaker purchased the farm in January of this year.
Whiteaker is thankful to have gained knowledge and hands-on work experience before starting his own dairy farm. By working for area farmers, he learned how to treat and deal with sick cows on his own.
“If I were to start on my own right away, I probably would’ve had to call the vet and have him out more often,” Whiteaker said.
Whiteaker’s favorite part about dairy farming is genetics and breeding cows. He breeds his own cows and looks to develop higher type cows.
“I like trying to create a better cow than the previous generation,” Whiteaker said.
In recent years, Whiteaker has also done more breeding to Angus and has used sexed semen on some of his better cows.
“I’m just trying to get better cows and not get any offspring out of the cows that I didn’t care for,” Whiteaker said.
Whiteaker’s biggest challenge starting on his own has been finances.
“Milk had just come down off the 2014 high and was really low. I was just trying to make everything all cash flow at once,” Whiteaker said. “But by working with banks and people that I buy stuff from, they were willing to work with me.”
Seeing as Whiteaker only runs 40 acres for corn silage, he also buys 70% of his feed.
“I work with a neighbor who sells a lot of hay. He understands that I need hay, and I understand that he’s got hay to sell. We’ve got a good relationship,” Whiteaker said. “A lot of it also comes from the elevator.”
In the future, Whiteaker plans to acquire more land and implement rotational grazing.
“It’s just something I’m intrigued by,” Whiteaker said of the grazing system.
When advising someone from the younger generation who is looking to get into farming, Whiteaker encourages them to closely evaluate their financial commitment.
“Keep your debt low and try to do as much stuff as you can,” he said. “You save on having to call people to fix stuff or have a vet out.”