A continuity of excellence

Moondale Farm focuses on high-type cows

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MONONA, Iowa — Detailed name boards hang in the whitewashed tiestall barn at Moondale Farm near Monona. Each board delineates a cow’s lineage and type.

“I always had a goal to breed good, high-type cows,” Dan Moon said. “(If your BAA) is up in the upper end, it must mean you’re doing pretty good.”

Dan and his wife, Nancy, own Moondale Farm where they are assisted full time by their son, Ryan. The Moons milk 50 Holsteins and raise most of their own feed on 350 acres.

“(Dairy farming is) all I’ve ever done, all I ever wanted to do,” Dan said.

High-type cows have always been a priority for Dan. He was named Premier Breeder at the Iowa State Holstein Show 19 times from 1991 to 2017 and has also shown three grand champions.

The Moons’ herd ranked among the best in the nation for BAA in the 1980s and 1990s. In 2023, their BAA ranked fourth in Region 6, which includes Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska and Iowa, and 69th nationally.

In 2007, Moondale Steffanie-TW was named reserve All-American after she placed second in the 5-year-old class at World Dairy Expo in Madison, Wisconsin.

In 2011, WDE honored Dan and his father, Vernice, with the Robert “Whitney” McKown Master Breeder Award.

The Moons do not show as many animals as they did in the past. They have taken as many as 10-16 to the Iowa State Holstein Show but now bring about six each year.

Before the Moons’ children grew up, they also showed in 4-H. Nancy said this is one of her favorite memories.

“(Teaching) them how to win and lose,” Nancy said. “You’re not always first, and it’s OK because ... they’re yours.”

Dan has been dairying on the farm site his entire life. His first memory with a tractor was his dad having him moldboard plow when it was chore time.

In 1977, Dan graduated from high school and started to farm full time. The farm was smaller then, with about 35 cows. In 1996, Dan and Nancy took over the farm after Dan’s parents retired.

Now, Ryan has been farming alongside his parents since he graduated from high school in 2016.

 Ryan said he has always enjoyed it.

“(I want to) keep it going as long as I can and as long as I have enough help,” Ryan said.

The Moons have taken a few steps toward transitioning the farm, as Ryan receives a percentage of the milk check and has purchased equipment.

“I like being around the cows,” Ryan said.

For Dan, watching genetic progress is one of his favorite things about dairy farming.

“(I like) just seeing your cows, ... (the) matings you’ve made and if they turn out, especially when they turn out well,” Dan said.

The Moons focus on breeding for components over pounds of milk. In the winter, they average about 4.2%-4.3% butterfat and 3.2%-3.3% protein.

“A lot of times a cow with 22,000 (pounds with a) real high test will make way more pounds of fat than a 30,000 pounder with low test,” Dan said.

The Moons also consider udders, feet and legs, rumps and depth in their breeding program.

“I like big, deep-ribbed cows,” Dan said.

Currently, the Moons have cows that are 13, 11, 9 and 8 years of age.

“With high type, they usually last longer,” Dan said.

The Moons give their cows free-choice dry hay and haylage but feed no corn silage. Part of the herd is housed in tie stalls and the rest are in a bedded pack barn. In the summer, the ration is supplemented with pasture.

Cows receive high-moisture corn, oats and protein allotments. Nancy joked about their system being high-tech.

“(Dan) has got a 5-gallon pail and a cup,” Nancy said. “He can dump on as much as he wants.”

Each day, the Moons begin milking around 5 a.m. Nancy and Ryan do the milking, while Dan switches cows and feeds. By 7:30 a.m., milking is done, and by 9 a.m., chores are complete.

The Moons do not have hired help.

“(I like) being outside,” Nancy said. “I like that you do something different every day. ... You generally milk twice a day, but what you do in between is different every day. ... I wouldn’t want to sit in a chair all day or sit in front of a screen; that’s just not my thing.”

Outside the dairy farm, the Moons are active in their community.

The Moons’ farm is pen pals for a local kindergarten class. The class helps name a calf and comes for a tour of the farm where they watch a cow being milked.

Dan has served in various positions on the Iowa District 1 Holstein Association board. He also has served in various roles, including president of the Iowa Holstein Association.

“A lot of it is to get together with people,” Dan said. “People before you took their turn, so I guess you have to take your turn and do it too.”

Both Dan and Ryan are on the Clayton County Holstein Association board, and the whole family serves on the dairy promotion board.

“If you work for the better of things, you have to voice your input,” Nancy said. “It doesn’t always go the way you want it to, but at least you know you said what you think.”

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