September 12, 2022 at 9:18 p.m.
How did you get into farming? I grew up here. My dad and grandpa both farmed this operation, making me the third generation in my family to farm at this location. I graduated from high school in 1981. Then, in 1982, I became partners with my mom and dad. Today, I own the farm 50/50 with my mom, Elaine. My brothers, Phil and Kenny, help me quite a bit, and my brother, Jim, also helps when he can.
What are your thoughts and concerns about the dairy industry for the next year? Stability in the market. The prices of inputs are shooting up high. We have our daily expenses that we can control, but we have no control over things like feed inputs. I certainly would not want to contract corn at the current price. The times are too unstable, and it concerns me.
What is a recent change you made on your farm and the reason for it? I put in an animal path across the waterway last month to keep the cows from tearing up the soil. Taking care of the environment is important to me, and this prevents soil erosion issues. The pathway is 280 feet long and starts at the heifer shed and goes all the way out to the pasture. All of my animals are pastured, from heifers to milk cows to dry cows. I have three groups on pasture. In 1993, I won the Outstanding Young Farmer for switching to rotational grazing on 19 paddocks.
Tell us about a skill you possess that makes dairy farming easier for you. My love for animals and my love of ensuring animal comfort. I despise not seeing comfortable animals. It drives me nuts if I see a calf shivering because it doesn’t have enough bedding. I go out of my way to ensure cow comfort, which makes my animals more successful.
What is the best decision you have made on your farm? In working toward improving animal comfort, we have made improvements to housing that have been beneficial. Cows were originally housed in a stanchion barn, and they kept banging up their legs. I took out the stanchions and put in a rail to create a poor boy’s tiestall barn. From there, I put free stalls in the dairy barn before finally building a freestall barn. The new building was excellent, giving the cows lots of fresh air through the use of curtain sidewalls. It improved cow comfort even more as the airflow made a big difference. In 2012, we started bedding stalls with washed agricultural lime, which is softer than sand and has been great for the cows. I’ve also greatly improved the quality of feed by paying attention to trace elements in the soil like boron, magnesium, zinc and sulfur. I take regular soil samples.
What are three things on the farm that you cannot live without? Support from family and hired help. I couldn’t run this farm by myself, and their reliability means so much. Also, my skid loader saves time and energy. And, Facebook helps me keep up with what’s going on with other farms in the area and potential opportunities. For example, I can find auctions to go to or equipment for sale, or I can even sell my own machinery.
What strategies do you use to withstand the volatile milk prices? I try to control my expenses. For example, I will cut back on feed expenses when milk prices aren’t good. I may cut soybean meal and minerals by 5%-10% when the milk price is marginal. I’ll also feed two rations to the milk cows, feeding the lower-end cows a lower mix of feed. I then top dress the higher milking cows that are making a higher return. I cheat on the ration, which means I might lose a little on milk, but I save on my feed bill. I’ll also start selling cull cows off when money is tight. Fixing my own machinery saves costs too. I put in more work when prices are bad to help cut costs.
How do you retain a good working relationship with your employees? I listen to them and try not to criticize. I always give employees two job choices when something needs to get done and tell them to choose one of the jobs, and then I do the other. For example, do you want to change the silo door or haul manure? I work with my employees and family members, not against them. Every time I hand an employee their paycheck, I ask them, ‘What can I do here to make life better for you?’ I also highlight something they’ve done well recently; I pay them a compliment. Your attitude, approach and response to your employees should be complementary not detrimental.
What do you enjoy most about dairy farming? My comfort zone is milking cows. Watching them chew their cud while content and relaxed in the stall – that’s my euphoria. I also like driving open platform tractors in the field. I don’t like being in a cab. You’re blinded in a cab tractor. Being with God is what it feels like when I’m riding on a tractor open to the sky.
What advice would you give other dairy farmers? Focus on animal comfort. Don’t rush, get mad at, yell at or hit your cows. They do much better in a calm environment. If you have a parlor made for eight cows, and only four get in there, then milk four. Work with your cows.
What are your plans for your dairy in the next year and five years? I plan to keep milking the same number of cows and don’t have any plans to expand. I like the genomic side of things and will keep doing genomic testing. We breed our lower-end animals to beef, so it is helpful to have the data. I would like to have animal monitoring collars so that is something I might consider in the future.
How do you or your family like to spend time when you are not doing chores? Visit with family. I like to know what’s going on in everyone’s lives, spend time at my sister’s new house, play volleyball and go dancing. Basically, I like doing anything physical.
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