Wilson Organic Dairy
Erin and Torray Wilson and their children, Lewis, 3, James, 4, Nora, 7, and Audrey, 9.
Paullina, Iowa
O’Brien County
110 cows
How did you get into farming? Erin grew up on a dairy farm in northeastern Iowa, but Torray was raised on a crop and hog operation. After Torray read the book “Paddock Shift” in junior high, he got interested in grazing and started grazing a flock of sheep. We met when Torray did a college internship at Erin’s parents’ farm. We got married in 2009 and rented a former hog farm from Torray’s family. We built a milking parlor in 2011 and started milking in 2012. We began to sell our milk to Organic Valley in 2016.

What are your thoughts and concerns about the dairy industry in the next year? We are concerned about changes in restaurant and supermarket sales and all of the market volatility we’ve seen lately. Unstable milk prices hurt the entire industry. We are also concerned about rising hauling costs.

What is the latest technology you have implemented on your farm and the purpose for it? This past spring, Torray built his own GPS RTK auto steer system. He uses it for hauling manure and keeping track of when and where we have applied manure.

What is a management change you have made in the past year that has benefitted you? We started using PC Dart. The management reports are useful. We found that the reports are a great tool for helping us select the bulls we will use for cleanup.

What cost-saving steps have you implemented? We cut back on the population of our silage corn and drilled forage sorghum into the corn right after it was planted. The sorghum grew so fast that it outcompeted the weeds. We did not have to do any cultivation. Our silage corn/forage sorghum combination yielded 28.5 tons per acre.

How do you retain a good working relationship with your employees? We pay them well and make sure they get time off when they want it. We treat them like family. We do fall freshening, so the work is somewhat seasonal. August and September are pretty intense.

Tell us about a skill you possess that makes dairy farming easier for you. We can move a paddock in 5 to 15 minutes. All of our ATVs are equipped to put up an electric fence in one pass.

What do you enjoy most about dairy farming? Taking care of the animals and watching them grow. Tracking the cow family lines in our herd and seeing how they improve. We enjoy simply watching the cattle graze, and seeing how they heal and improve the land.

What advice would you give other dairy farmers? If you want to do something alternative, make sure you have a market for it first. Be humble enough to listen to your team of advisors.

What has been the best purchase you have made on your farm? I like my Gallagher fencing reel, but I would have to say the best purchase has been our skidloader. I like that I no longer get cold in the winter.

What has been your biggest accomplishment while dairy farming? Creating a dairy farm where there wasn’t one before.

What are your plans for your dairy in the next year and the next five years? Organic Valley has increased our quota, so we will be adding 15 or so cows to our herd during the next year. This should help us with our hauling charges. Over the next five years, we plan to improve our winter housing and continue to improve our pastures.

What do you and your family like to do when you are not doing chores? Our family likes to do cycling, go camping, canoeing and kayaking. During the wintertime, we read aloud to the kids.