Cows rest in a 48-by-120 foot loafing barn at the Severances’ dairy near Dickey, North Dakota. The barn, which was constructed in 2016, features a bedded pack and natural ventilation.
Cows rest in a 48-by-120 foot loafing barn at the Severances’ dairy near Dickey, North Dakota. The barn, which was constructed in 2016, features a bedded pack and natural ventilation. PHOTO SUBMITTED
    DICKEY, N.D. – Even though he did not grow up on a dairy farm, one might say that farming is in Kyle Severance’s blood.
    “My ancestors moved from England to the American colonies in the 1630s,” Severance said. “The Severance family has been farming continuously in New England for more than 350 years.”
    Severance’s grandparents dairy farmed but exited the business before Severance was born. Severance’s parents are both teachers. Severance grew up on a 20-acre farmstead located near Waterbury Center, Vermont.
    “I wanted to be a dairy farmer for as long as I can remember,” Severance said. “I started raising heifer calves on our acreage when I was a kid. As soon as I was old enough, I began to work for neighborhood dairy farmers. This gave me valuable experience and practical knowledge about dairy farming.”
    While he was yet in high school, Severance looked into purchasing a dairy farm.
    “There are a lot of ski resorts in the area where I grew up,” he said. “This put the cost of buying even a small farm well beyond my means.”
    Severance studied dairy farm management at Vermont Technical College when he was a senior in high school. He then searched for a smaller college that had a solid animal science program. His search brought him to University of Minnesota-Crookston.
    “I had never been to Minnesota,” Severance said. “I just packed up my pickup and drove to Crookston. The campus pretty much matched up to what I saw on the web and in their brochures.”
    While he was working toward his animal science degree at Crookston, Severance met a young lady named Heather Cuypers, who was pursuing a degree in agronomy. It was not long before they became a couple. Heather and Kyle were wed in 2008. The Severances now have five children, Dakota, 11, Kaitlyn, 9, Grant, 8, Claire, 3, and Leah, 1.
    Shortly after they were married, the Severances went to Vermont and looked into dairy farming with Severance’s parents. This proved impractical, so the Severances moved to eastern North Dakota. Heather’s parents, Tim and Sheila, farm near Litchville.
    Heather took a position with K2S Engineering, and Severance began to work for Dakota Plains Ag.
    “In 2011, we purchased 40 acres from Heather’s grandmother,” Severance said. “It had been a farmstead once, but all of the buildings were gone. The only things there were an electric pole and a prairie road.”
    The Severances purchased a house and moved it onto their acreage. They then started a seed dealership, which enabled them to erect a shop building.
    “By 2016, we built up enough equity to build a dairy barn if we did things in a reasonable fashion,” Severance said. “One of the biggest obstacles was finding someone to buy our milk. (Dairy Farmers of America) eventually took us on.”
    The Severances built a 48-by-120 bedding pack loafing barn that has a drive-by feeding lane on one side. The loafing barn has been designed so that it can be converted into to a 3-row freestall barn.
    In an effort to keep their expenses low, the Severances opted to install an 8-cow flat parlor on the end of their loafing barn. The parlor has also been future proofed.
    “We designed the flat parlor in such a way that it can be easily switched over to a robotic milking system,” Severance said. “In the early 2000s, I worked on a robotic dairy, so I’m comfortable with robots. Our dairy barn was also designed so that it could be doubled in size, with room for 120 cows and two milking robots.”
    The Severances are currently milking about 70 head. Most of their cattle are Jerseys, but they also have a few Holstein-Jersey crossbreds.
    From the very beginning, the Severances have focused on cleanliness, cow comfort and herd health. Their efforts were recognized this past January when they received the Commissioner’s Award of Dairy Excellence during the 2020 North Dakota Dairy Convention. The event was sponsored by the North Dakota Milk Producers Association.
    “Our SCC is currently averaging 100,000 or less,” Severance said. “Our butterfat is running about 5.5% and our protein is 3.9%. After adding in all of the quality bonuses, our pay price will be close to $30 per hundredweight.”
    Severance said there are no big secrets to achieving these high levels of milk quality.
    “Keep things clean and don’t cut corners,” Severance said. “We use DHIA records to help us identify problem animals. You need to know where you stand with each cow. We are now at the point where we have enough of our own replacement animals. If a cow is giving us problems, we can replace her with one of our homegrown heifers.”
    The Severances farm a quarter section of land and have access to several hundred acres of pasture.
    “We raise all of our own forages,” Severance said. “We feed our cows a TMR that consists of corn silage, dry alfalfa, alfalfa baleage and corn. The only things we buy are a little soybean meal and some minerals. I can feed our milk cows for $2.50 per head per day. Our milk production is about 45 pounds per head per day, and our cows have almost no health problems.”
    In addition to their herd of Jerseys, the Severances have about 30 stock cows. The stock cows take advantage of the pasture during the growing season and are fed grass hay in the wintertime. In an effort to reduce costs even further, the Severances often put their dry milk cows in with their stock cows.
    “We use rotational grazing for our milk cows in the summertime,” Severance said. “This cuts feed costs and saves on bedding and manure hauling. Most years, I go through 500 big round bales of straw or corn stalks for the bedding pack. But you have to keep the cows dry and comfortable.”
    Like most dairy farmers, Severance puts in long hours.
    “A 14-hour day is pretty normal,” Severance said. “I love dairy farming, but it isn’t a get-rich-quick scheme. Heather and I enjoy raising our children on our dairy farm. Our three oldest kids are starting to help me milk, but they aren’t yet tall enough to reach the buttons on the automatic takeoffs.”
    Even though he is still a young man, Severance is already thinking about the continuation of his family’s centuries-long farming heritage.
    “Heather and I would love it if one or more of our kids eventually decides to join our dairy farming operation,” Severance said.