Justin Anderson pushes up feed to his cows, which are housed on a bedded pack. 
Justin Anderson pushes up feed to his cows, which are housed on a bedded pack. PHOTO BY SHERRY NEWELL
    RICEVILLE, Iowa – Justin Anderson loved milking cows on his family’s dairy farm. When his parents sold the cows, Anderson was left wondering about his future in farming. After graduating college in 2008, he purchased a herd of Holsteins from Minnesota and rented his parents’ farm near Riceville, Iowa.
    Today, Anderson and his wife, Molly, milk 50 Holsteins in a stanchion barn and have been able to sustain the farm with patience and precise planning.  
    “I guess I knew going in that slow and steady wins the race,” Anderson said. “It’s really tempting to spend a lot of money, but you need to stay within your size, and I’m the kind of guy who would rather spend time with my cows versus having to worry about employees taking care of the cattle. So, I don’t ever see myself getting big enough that we would have to hire labor. I’d just as soon do most of it myself.”
    When Molly is not working part time as a DHIA inspector or soil tester, she helps with chores and is in charge of raising the calves.
    The cows are housed in a bedded pack shed in the winter and are rotationally grazed in the summer on 40 acres of pasture. Anderson also farms 240 acres of organic alfalfa, corn, soybeans and oats. They prefer to raise the cows conventionally for now and continue with the organic crops.
    “We do fit well with the organic dairy,” Anderson said. “I don’t have a lot of health problems with my cows being they’re on bedded packs and pasture. Usually my somatic cell count stays pretty low year round that way.”
    They are able to keep the herd’s SCC below 100,000 with a rolling herd average around 26,000 pounds of milk.
    When Anderson began farming 10 years ago, he knew he needed to upgrade the facilities and equipment to be successful.
    “We invested in a lot of hay equipment right away,” he said. “We bought a nice round baler, rake and bale wrapper. It made putting up high quality hay a lot easier and that led to increased production.”
    They also installed drive through feeding in the shed, and Anderson purchased a bale processor.
    “We also switched from dry hay to alfalfa baleage for feed,” he said. “We’ve put up better feed, which leads to better production for the cows.”
    Because they focused on better equipment, they have not updated the facilities, and Anderson still milks in the 26-stall stanchion barn. He hopes to put in a small parlor within the next year, depending on milk price.
    As Anderson reminisces on the past 10 years of dairy farming, he said he made the right decision.
    “I don’t have many regrets the last 10 years,” Anderson said. “Sometimes you get to thinking we should be bigger and more efficient, but then we start looking into it and you know, really with the way prices are right now, the scale doesn’t matter. Everybody is in a tight spot.”
    He said they have an added income with their organic grain.
    “It has been an added blessing to have the organic grain markets,” Anderson said. “I wouldn’t change a thing that way. We’re pretty good at farming [organically], and it just seems to work for us personally.”
    He does offer a bit of advice for his past self, focusing on patience.
    “I would emphasize building slow and steady is the way to go,” Anderson said. “Keep your finances in order, too, so when the time does come to add or make a quality purchase, you’re able to do it.”
    This year, Anderson is thankful for his family.
    “I’ve got two brothers and my dad will come help if I need it,” he said. “I’m also thankful for my wife and the cows, and being able to work with my wife on the dairy farm. We both enjoy working with the cows. We’re thankful to be doing what we love for a living even though it is tough sometimes.”