Brent Czech welcomes guests to his dairy farm Aug. 12 in Rice, Minn. Czech milks 1,800 cows in Benton County.
Brent Czech welcomes guests to his dairy farm Aug. 12 in Rice, Minn. Czech milks 1,800 cows in Benton County. PHOTO BY JENNIFER COYNE

    RICE, Minn. – When Brent Czech considers the progress he has made as a dairy farmer, it is not solely his work or one part of management that has propelled his business.
    Rather, Czech’s 1,800-cow dairy is built on the foundation of teamwork and opportunity with the industry’s tools.
    “I want to give people access to the farm and a chance to learn and see what we are doing,” Czech said. “To best do that, I want you to hear from the best people we work with.”

    Czech hosted the Benton County Dairy and Forage Field Day Aug. 12 on his New Heights Dairy in Rice, Minn.

Crossbreeding heightens purebred traits
    Since Czech began dairy farming, he has focused his breeding strategies to bring out the best traits in his cows, regardless of breed.
    The herd’s foundation is built on Holsteins, but then incorporates Jerseys and Montbeliarde in a three-way cross to maximize health, reproduction and production traits. Previously, it was a herd of mixed crossbreeds.
    “When we put a dollar amount to production, reproduction and health data, there was a clear winner – the Monte sire with a Ho-Jo dam,” said Shane Boettcher, key client and reproductive specialist with Select Sires.
    New Heights Dairy has followed this breeding strategy for the past four years, paying particular attention to not selecting positive stature Holsteins. In every selection, Czech chooses the top 1-2% of bulls in each breed based on net merit.
    “Brent is breeding with a commercial mindset, knowing reproduction and health traits are important for cows to stay in the herd,” Boettcher said. “Data suggests crossbreds outperform purebred cattle. They have a higher dollar value for every trait, and that’s important in today’s economy.”
    Currently, Czech’s herd has an 80-pound tank average per cow per day with 4.2% butterfat and 3.3% protein.
    Recently, the Rice dairy farmer has decided to improve his crossbreeding strategy by breeding Holstein to Jersey, and then a Holstein-Jersey crossbred to a Holstein sire before introducing the Montbeliarde in the third mating.
    “Breeds are improving all the time and Brent wants to take advantage of those genetic advancements,” said Chris Sigurdson, general manager at Select Sires. “Because he’s using the best genetics by breed, it’s going to be tough to go wrong.”  

Hay in a day
    Czech runs 500 acres of alfalfa he cuts for haylage.
    In understanding the hay-making process and using a low lignin alfalfa, Czech optimizes his fields for a higher quality forage and more tonnage – all of which is done in the essence of time.
    A couple years ago, Czech planted HarvXtra low lignin alfalfa to extend stand longevity and reduce cuttings while at the same time increasing tonnage without losing quality.
    “This farm needs every ounce of forage on the acres they have,” said Isaac Popp, Centra Sota crop advisor.
    The crop has extended cutting to about every 30 days.
    In cutting alfalfa, Czech is looking for a haylage crop that has 60-65% moisture. When the crop is cut, the plant is at 80-85% moisture.
    “A study shows we can take moisture out of a plant at 11-13% every two hours,” said Nathan Drewitz, University of Minnesota Extension Educator. “Knowing that, Czech can have his crop in five hours.”
    Czech uses a merger, front mower and rear mower to collect the haylage. The width of the swath is 80% that of the mower, Drewitz said.
    Then, the dairy farmer packs the haylage in bunkers, putting it up quickly and feeding it out just as fast.

Manure, sand coexist with separation system
    In 2007, Czech converted the existing barns from bedded packs to sand-bedded freestalls. At the same time, he also installed a gravity-flow sand lane. Last December, the dairy farmer built a manure separation system to further eliminate sand in the lagoon and equipment.
    “It’s a really good system,” said Ryan Stuckmayer, the dairy’s operations manager. “Before, sand was building up in the pipes in the barns and now it’s clear.”
    Two pumps feed manure and sand waste from the barn, pumping roughly 2,000 gallons per minute.
    “That’s fast enough to keep the sand suspended,” Stuckmayer said. “We lose very little. The best sand settles within the first 50 feet.”
    Large particles of sand are collected and dried for a couple months before being reused.
    The remaining manure travels through the separation system. There, slope screens separate the solids. Then, the solids and excess manure are placed in a discharge tank, agitated and pumped to the first lagoon. As the solids settle, the remaining liquid gravity flows into the second lagoon.
    The flume uses the wastewater collected during the separation process.
    “This whole process probably goes through about 20 loads a week, and we’re recollecting 90% of the sand,” Stuckmayer said.

Risk management protects dairy
    The purpose of having a risk management strategy for prices is to protect feed input and milk output, said Mark Rothschild.
    Rothschild, manager of dairy risk at Commodity and Ingredient Hedging, LLC, works closely with Czech in making the best decisions for his dairy given the market conditions.
    “Brent has high components and high milk flow, so we want to expand on those strengths,” Rothschild said. “But, we also have to be careful those strengths don’t become weaknesses.”
    As takers of the market, dairy farmers can use forward contracting, locking in prices on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, or using government programs such as Dairy Margin Coverage or Dairy Revenue Protection.
    “You have to become a setter and control your bottom line,” Rothschild said. “We need to eliminate hope from our businesses.”
    Dairies should know what their margin of milk price over feed cost is and then develop a plan that best protects that in order to capture profitability on a grander scale.
    Czech purchased the farm in 2006 following college graduation. With the assistance of family, employees and industry professionals, he has since doubled the lactating herd at this site, improved cow comfort and made the dairy more efficient. He has also built another dairy farm in Foley, Minn.
    And with that same core group of people, Czech has his sites set on the future of the industry.