Tim Strobel (left) and Jordan Matthews are partners with Lloyd and Daphne Holterman and part-owners of Rosy-Lane Holsteins. Strobel and Matthews have worked at Rosy-Lane since high school.
Tim Strobel (left) and Jordan Matthews are partners with Lloyd and Daphne Holterman and part-owners of Rosy-Lane Holsteins. Strobel and Matthews have worked at Rosy-Lane since high school. PHOTO SUBMITTED

    WATERTOWN, Wis. – Breeding cows that live longer, healthier, more productive lives is one of the keys to sustainability success at Rosy-Lane Holsteins. By focusing on this aspect of genetics, the farm has increased efficiency so they are producing 1.7 pounds of milk for every pound of dry matter fed to milking cows. This translates to 728,175 more gallons of milk per year using the same amount of feed and other resources.  

    Rosy-Lane Holsteins is owned by Lloyd and Daphne Holterman, and their partners, Tim Strobel and Jordan Matthews, who milk 955 cows and farm about 1,800 acres near Watertown. Rosy-Lane’s daily dedication to cows, people, environment and community won the farm a national award for Outstanding Dairy Farm Sustainability April 22 from The Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy.
    The farm’s extreme efficiency is a result of excelling in the areas of genetics, people, animal housing, nutrition, herd health, milk harvest, technology and calf care. Rosy-Lane genetics zero in on productive life – a trait Lloyd has bred for since 1994. Experts at creating cows that last, the folks at Rosy-Lane Holsteins have mastered the art of doing more with less by breeding a relatively trouble-free cow they can milk for many years.
    “Genetics has made the biggest difference for us in terms of sustainability,” Lloyd said. “We breed for longevity instead of type and have multiple generations of high productive life cows.”
    The Holtermans think not of short-term success but of long-term performance and profitability achieved on minimal resources. Their herd is filled with efficient cows that stand the test of time, breed back quickly and rarely call in sick.
    “Cows must be bred for resilience,” Lloyd said. “At the farm level, we’ve greatly reduced our cost to produce milk – not by traditional ways – but by breeding better, healthier, longer-living cows. It’s a big reason why we won this award.”
    Fixed on breeding cows that produce more milk throughout their lifetime, Rosy-Lane has bred 166 cows with over 200,000 pounds of lifetime milk production. The farm’s rolling herd average is 32,155 pounds of milk, with 4% butterfat at 1,296 pounds, and 3.2% protein at 1,020 pounds. Cows average 102 pounds of energy-corrected milk per day.
    The farm follows a specialized breeding template focused on productive life, daughter pregnancy rate and Dairy Wellness Profit, allowing them to attain more milk with fewer cows.
    Their breeding philosophy results in cows that perform higher over a longer time period while incurring lower veterinary costs. Low cattle turnover is evident in the farm’s cull rate which has averaged 25% for the last four years.  
    “It’s really paid off to intensively breed for productive life,” Lloyd said. “We’re milking older, healthier, fertile, disease-resistant cows. That’s where the money is. If you really want to cut costs and increase production, you have to do this. You can breed for more milk, but if she doesn’t last, it’s futile. Reducing a herd’s replacement cost is the low-hanging fruit for profitability.”
    Rosy-Lane is a farm where the older girls often outperform the younger ones.
    “Our fourth-calf cows are our highest producers,” Lloyd said. “And we have eighth-calf cows that are outproducing our second-calf cows. Forty percent of our herd is at three or more lactations.”
    Lloyd said they raise 30% fewer replacements than the average farm but still have enough animals to sell replacement cows.
    “We do intensive selection for daughter pregnancy rate,” Lloyd said. “It takes generations to improve fertility, but we’ve been doing this for 15 years and have seen an improvement in genetic fertility. Most of the cows we culled in the past were open. Now, most cows breed back trouble-free.”
    The Holtermans worked with Dr. Paul Fricke and Dr. Milo Wiltbank from the University of Wisconsin-Madison on implementing reproduction strategies. Lloyd said his farm’s breeding strategy costs no more than other approaches.
    “Our breeding budget is the same as before we went down this path,” he said. “The bulls we use are not necessarily the highest priced. Prices are based on production and type, not longevity, so there are some real bargains out there.”
    The farm is currently using these sires:  Rome,  Solution, Arrowhead, Windu, Media,  Magnitude, Tuner and Ragnar..
    “Our cows were getting too big so now we breed a smaller, rounder, tougher cow,” Lloyd said. “We pick average to below on stature, but they still need to be strong. Reducing frame size has dramatically improved mobility. We breed a cow that’s extreme in cheese yield while living longer and healthier. Our cows are also more resistant to disease which has greatly reduced our use of antibiotics.”
    Whittling away at the cost to produce 100 pounds of milk, the Holtermans have learned how to achieve maximum production on minimal resources.  
    “We believe healthy cows and a healthy planet go hand-in-hand,” Daphne said. “That’s the essence of sustainability.”
    The Holtermans place a high emphasis on cow health and breed for cows that resist mastitis, ketosis, displaced abomasums and other ailments. The outcome is fewer sick animals and a lower cost per hundredweight of milk. Antibiotics have not been used on the milking herd for more than seven years as cows only receive antibiotics at dryoff, not during lactation. The farm’s vet cost is 32 cents per hundredweight, whereas 90 cents to $1 is typical, Lloyd said.
    When dealing with things like mastitis, the focus is on prevention. When mastitis does occur, it is treated via fluid therapy, not antibiotics.
    “Our cure rate went up when we started doing this,” Lloyd said. “Fluids stabilize the cows and they usually get better in less than a week.”
    The Holtermans and their partners have bred two No. 1 genomic females. Rosy-Lane Delta 10090-ET obtained top genomic status in 2015, and two  years later, her daughter, Rosy-Lane LLC Frazzled 11270-ET, took the No. 1 spot.  
    “The Delta daughter’s livability score is over 5, which is very extreme at more than two deviations over the standard,” Lloyd said. “She has great mobility, fertility, and resistance to mastitis and disease. She has 50 offspring and five sons in A.I. and is the epitome of what we’re trying to breed here.”
    Lloyd said the power of genetics to transform a farm should not be underestimated.
    “You can start changing what you’re breeding for tomorrow,” he said. “It’s an investment, and each generation gets better. Things don’t improve overnight – it takes two to three generations to see a difference, so you have to be patient and keep at it. You also have to measure and track your numbers.”  
    Daphne agreed.
    “We collect numbers from all areas of the farm and enter them into the computer on a regular basis,” she said. “These measurements tie everything together and are extremely helpful in guiding us as we strive to be more efficient and sustainable.”
    Daphne also attributes their efficient, highly-trained and motivated staff of 20 employees as critical to the farm’s success.
    “Without great people, we couldn’t do all of this,” she said.
    Sustainability is procured at Rosy-Lane through a combination of large and small efforts, and Daphne said they constantly evaluate what is providing the best return. Although they have found genetics pulls the biggest bang for their buck, they push for efficiency and sustainability at every turn – in caring for their land and crops and in using water, electricity and other resources.   
    “Work towards sustainability, better cash flow and long-term debt reduction and watch your operation grow in financial strength,” Lloyd said. “People think sustainability has to cost more without getting better performance, but we would argue that’s not the case. By refining our protocols and focusing on genetics, we’ve become more sustainable and profitable at the same time.”