PHOTO BY AARON THOMAS
PHOTO BY AARON THOMAS
CLARKSVILLE, Iowa – April 16 brought one of the most anticipated days of the spring for the Leerhoff family on their farm.
“It’s a highlight for us, watching the cows run out of the barn,” Kurt Leerhoff said.
The cows in the herd were let out to pasture for the first time of the year on a bright and sun-filled afternoon. Leerhoff and his wife, Jenny, along with their sons, Daniel, 12, and Joseph, 7, milk 70 cows on their dairy near Clarksville.
That day, Leerhoff’s alarm went off at 2:30, as it does every morning.
“It takes me a little bit to get up and moving in the morning,” he said.
After getting dressed and checking the maternity barn monitor in the kitchen, Leerhoff was out the door within 20 minutes to check the maternity pen.
“That’s the first place I check every morning,” he said.
After preparing the swing-8 parlor for milking and then cleaning the freestall barn with the skidloader, Leerhoff was ready for milking by 3:45 a.m. It took him about 1 hour and 20 minutes to complete the task.
“It’s not bad,” Leerhoff said. “It all depends on if there are any treated or fresh cows that take a little longer, but right now things are pretty good and we don’t have many.”
While Leerhoff finished milking, his dad, Eugene, arrived around 5 a.m. to fill up the TMR mixer and feed the older heifers.
“Then we meet up and if there are other little jobs, we do those,” Leerhoff said of his typical day’s schedule. “We discuss some things about what our plans are for the day. He does his thing and I do mine.”
Leerhoff’s parents, Eugene and Marcella, live 2.5 miles away from the farm. When Leerhoff starting farming after graduating from high school in 1989, he worked with his parents for many years before he took over full ownership 22 years ago.
“I’ve basically been in the barn my whole life,” Leerhoff said. “I even have memories in kindergarten of feeding calves.”
After milking, Leerhoff cleaned up the barn, checked the cows for heats and fed calves. By 6:30 a.m., Eugene was done with his morning chore routine and left. Leerhoff finished his chores 15 minutes later and headed to the house to help Jenny get the boys ready for school.
“Daniel is an earlier riser,” Leerhoff said. “Some days he can be up at 5 a.m. Joseph is the opposite. He likes to sleep in and can be a little cranky in the morning. I like to say they have been that way since birth since Daniel was born in the morning and Joseph was born in the evening.”
After having breakfast and getting ready for the day, the family drove together to school, which is about 5 miles from the farm.
After dropping off the boys, they returned to the farm for more daily chores, including cleaning calf pens and fixing a fence.
“I had electric wire I wanted to put up on a small pasture where I put dry cows for the summer,” Leerhoff said. “That took a little while.”
After that, Leerhoff sorted out pallets of seed followed by lunch.
“We’re in the process now of wanting to get in the field, but we’re waiting the weather out a little bit,” he said. “Some farmers have been doing planting, but we’re waiting for warmer weather. So, any jobs that need to be done yet we’re just working around the buildings here.”
The Leerhoffs raise corn, soybeans and alfalfa on 375 acres. When it comes to fieldwork, Leerhoff works together with his brother, taking care of both of their farm acres along with land they both rent from their parents.
After lunch, Leerhoff hauled a load of manure and moved heifers before it was time for the most exciting moment of the spring. Together, the Leerhoffs opened the gate to the pasture and watched as the cows kicked their legs in excitement with their tails high in the air as they ran to the lush green grass.
“It was a really comfortable day to be outside,” Leerhoff said. “They were having fun out there in the grass.”
The pasture is used for exercise for the cows, although there is grass there for them to eat if they want.
“They tend to really want to eat the grass and then come in the barn and don’t want to eat up their TMR,” Leerhoff said. “We will go down on milk when we first let them out because of it.”
The big open pasture is between the house and the road. The family can sit in their kitchen and watch the cows rest or graze on the landscape.
“It’s just beautiful,” Leerhoff said. “We can just sit there and watch them.”
While the cows were enjoying their outside time, Leerhoff cleaned the barn and did a few other things before his father-in-law, Max Kough, brought the boys home from school.
“He picks the boys up from school, drives them home and helps take care of them in the evenings,” Leerhoff said. “He’s retired and 84 years old. He says the boys keep him going and it’s a big help for us, too.”
After a bit of family time, Leerhoff fed the older calves before milking. He went out on the four-wheeler to round up the cows in the pasture.
Leerhoff said one of his favorite parts of dairy farming is seeing the improvement and increase in milk production, and watching the calves turn into productive cows.
“I just like walking in the barn and seeing the nice looking full-uddered cows standing there ready to produce a lot of milk,” he said.
After finishing milking at 6 p.m., Leerhoff decided to do a few more tasks before going in the house for the night.
“It’s hard going to the house this time of year when it’s still light out,” he said. “I see all these jobs that need to be done.”
But he also wants to spend a bit of time with this family. When Leerhoff finally retreated to the house, the family ate together and talked about their day. The boys had a bit of play time before they started their bedtime routine at 8 p.m. By 9:30 p.m., Leerhoff fell asleep to start again the next day.
Despite the long days, Leerhoff enjoys his dairy farming career. Even on the challenging days, the cows can be a comfort.
“I’ve always liked the saying, ‘You take care of the cows and they’ll take care of you,’” Leerhoff said. “In the last few years, it’s been really hard. I can’t say the cows haven’t taken care of us. The industry has not taken care of us. Even though the cows have not been supporting us as well the last few years, financially, on the emotional side of things of being a loving creature out in the barn, they have always taken care of us. That keeps us going, too.”