July 22, 2023 at 8:00 a.m.
Iowa brothers thrive through first decade of dairying
PETERSBURG, Iowa – When Brad and Jeremy Putz graduated from high school and went straight into dairy farming, some people questioned their decision, suggesting college first.
“One teacher said, ‘Why do you want to start working now; you have your whole life to work,’” Brad said. “But if we would have gone to college, no milk company would have taken us on as new producers by the time we started our herd.”
The advice to attend college was given just over a decade ago, when the boys’ parents, Ed and Janet Putz of Petersburg, put in a new freestall barn and two robotic milking systems after Brad graduated from high school and Jeremy was about to do the same. The plan was for Brad and Jeremy to eventually have their own enterprise.
Those plans have come to fruition and then some. Today, the brothers manage their own herd of Jerseys down the road from their parents’ operation. They bought their neighbor’s double-8 herringbone parlor and freestall barn in 2021 along with 78 acres of land.
“We always wanted to add on (to our parents’ barn),” Brad said. “But this was a better investment since it included the land and milking facilities.”
Brad and Jeremy’s herd started with 36 Jerseys. Four months ago, they transitioned the herd, which had grown to 160 cows, to a robotic milking system. While the parents bought the local dealership’s last two Lely A3 Next units in 2012, the sons put in two Lely A5s. Brad said he finds the auto-align to work well and the A5s are quieter and better with teat dipping.
However, the parlor on the brothers’ farm is still used to milk 40 of the 160 cows being housed in their freestall barn. Their parents milk 145 cows.
They start all heifers from both herds in the parlor, milking them there until there is room to put them on the robots. Then, they separate the Holsteins from the Jerseys and take them to join the rest of the corresponding herd.
At their parents’ farm, Brad and Jeremy are just as involved as they ever were. In fact, the entire farm is operated as if it were just one dairy, yet financially the businesses are separate.
“The costs are split in half as well as the income from each herd,” Brad said. “That’s simpler than we used to do it, buying feed from our parents.”
Duties are spread among Ed, Janet, Brad and Jeremy. Ed mixes feed and manages fieldwork. He milks with Brad in the parlor at night. Janet feeds calves, and Jeremy handles robot maintenance and fresh cows. He also scrapes and cleans stalls, occasionally with help from his wife of several weeks, Heidi, who is a teacher. Brad is the primary herd and calf manager.
Brad and Jeremy’s cousin, Nick Bagge, works on the farm each morning, milking with Brad in the parlor, working in the robot barn and taking care of the youngstock.
Calves from both herds are combined and housed in a calf barn in individual pens. Calves are fed using a Milk Taxi. All heifers are raised together until calving.
When the robots went into their barn this spring, Brad and Jeremy added lean-tos to house the robots and to expand the barn for the free-flow system. Barns on both farmsteads have robots to push up feed, and there are automatic scrapers in Ed and Janet’s barn while a skid loader is used in the brothers’ barn.
Brad and Jeremy’s wish list includes headlocks for breeding heifers, which are raised on the farm, and a better dry cow facility.
The dairy operation owns 260 acres and rents 140.
“We need to make sure we have enough silage to feed everything,” Jeremy said.
They purchase their shell corn and dry hay.
The Putzes’ breeding program includes using sexed semen on heifers and some first-calf cows while breeding the remaining animals to Angus. Some cows also serve as recipients for embryos owned by another party.
At present, Brad and Jeremy said they have few regrets about the way the dairy is working.
“Although we run up and down the road, and every fresh cow has to be hauled to one barn or another, it works for the way we are set up,” Jeremy said.
In the past decade, Brad and Jeremy have learned plenty.
“With Jerseys, we learned how important components are in affecting the milk price we are paid,” Brad said. “And, we found out about a beginning farmer loan and how buying a farm can be a long process.”