Home is where the milk market is

Dairyman relocates, switches to conventional practices

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LOGANVILLE, Wis. – After farming organically in West Virginia all his life, two years ago, Stephen Kinsinger moved to Wisconsin to farm conventionally with a new herd.
“I saw a lot of potential here,” Kinsinger said. “We found out about this Amish community that we liked, and they said there were farms for sale here.”
Kinsinger milks 75 cows in a double-8 rapid exit parlor with his wife, Malinda, and their five children – Ada, Jesse, Zacchaeus, Jethro and Christopher – near Loganville. Milk is shipped to Scenic Central Milk Producers, and Kinsinger is part of the Cows First program, which is a partnership with Meister Cheese to ensure the humane and responsible sourcing of milk. The program provides Kinsinger with an additional $1 per hundredweight.
Kinsinger milked a herd of 30 organic cows in West Virginia with his father. When his father decided to change careers, Kinsinger wanted to continue farming.
“I just wanted to do the farm work so he pretty much turned everything over to me,” Kinsinger said. “I was basically managing the farm since I was 15.”
Kinsinger was paid a premium for being a grass-based herd, and there were minimum conventional markets in the area. However, with an uncertain future for his current market, he decided to switch to a new organic creamery.
“Organic Valley came in and wanted to start a route,” Kinsinger said. “They thought they had enough people to start a route so we signed up, but it seemed like everything went wrong from there.”
Before long, Kinsinger was the only dairy farmer left on his route. With his small herd being over 60 miles out of the way, Kinsinger was told he either had to move closer to an existing route or find another market for his milk.
In search for new opportunity, he took the lead on a few farms for sale in Wisconsin. The farm he ended up on was abandoned and had sat empty for almost 10 years. It was clear to Kinsinger that it would take a lot of work to make the farm suitable for cows.
“We settled on this farm because I liked that parlor,” Kinsinger said. “I just thought it was a shame nobody had done anything with this farm for so long.”
Once moving to the farm in June 2020, Kinsinger discovered electrical problems where mice had chewed through wires and sand-clogged drains.
“It was a mess,” Kinsinger said. “It took a lot to clean it up. There is still work to do too.”
Kinsinger hired a jet truck to clear some of the drains, but the line from the parlor to the lagoon was beyond repair. He ended up digging a new line next to the old one and plans to build a concrete push-off ramp to avoid the drain system altogether. A corkscrew tool was used to clean out the milkhouse drain which was blocked with garbage and debris.
One of the biggest problems for Kinsinger and his family was that the house was not suitable to live in. The family lived in two rooms off the parlor until fall 2021 when they added on to the quarters. What they are living in now will serve as their machine shop once they are able to build a house on the farm.
When he first moved to Wisconsin, Kinsinger worked on cleaning up the farm and worked a construction job to help with cash flow while looking for a herd of cows to buy. He worked out a deal with a farmer close by who was looking to sell his cows, anticipating time to get the farm ready before having to buy the herd. Before the farm was ready for cows, the prospective seller called to say he needed to get rid of his cows sooner than planned.
“We weren’t ready,” Kinsinger said. “I had to tell him he should just sell them somewhere else.”
Without that herd on an existing milk route, Kinsinger was without a milk market. However, after finding a herd of ProCross cows near Richland Center, the creamery allowed him to come aboard.
“It turned out good because they told us they would take us anyway,” Kinsinger said. “We would have been in trouble because our whole loan was contingent on that.”
Another challenge that came with relocating was switching from organic to conventional farming practices. Kinsinger had always farmed organically but was willing to switch to conventional for the sake of finding a market.
He had never experienced foot abscesses, had never heard of a displaced abomasum and always waited for cows to show heat before breeding them. With the help of a veterinarian, nutritionist, breeder and hoof trimmer, Kinsinger said he has learned a whole new way to farm.
“The difference in operating a dairy farm like this versus an organic dairy farm has been one of the biggest challenges,” Kinsinger said. “If it wouldn’t have been for my nutritionist and my vet, we would have been in big trouble.”
Kinsinger now uses an ovsynch program, feeds a total mixed ration and does monthly herd health checks with the veterinarian. He also credits the ProCross breed for improving his chances at success.
“You get a very good hybrid vigor out of the ProCrosses,” Kinsinger said. “It’s amazing what you can get out of those calves, and I have a pretty decent butterfat and protein.”
Fertility has also been excellent, said Kinsinger.
“I had to learn the hard way that you’ve got to get those cows bred and keep them as high producing as possible,” he said. “Now I am having a different problem where they are still milking when I’ve got to dry them off, but that’s a good problem to have.”
Kinsinger milks cows that are close to dry off once a day.
The West Virginia native found success with organic dairy farming, but the learning curve of farming conventionally is paying off, said Kinsinger.
“It’s definitely working,” he said. “Plus, there are so many cash croppers around me that I don’t think I could certify this land.”
Kinsinger’s plans include building heifer facilities, introducing paddocks to allow more grazing, possibly expanding cow numbers as his children grow and building a house.
While the transition has presented challenges so far, Kinsinger said he is satisfied with the decision to relocate so far.
“I could make more money working construction, but I like being home all the time,” Kinsinger said. … “If you do what you like, then you never have to work a day in your life.”

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