Mooove into the Future of Dairy

October 31st, 2016


Category: Dairy

Dairy.Cheese.Milk450x299(Agri News) – The future for dairy farming seems uncertain at times, with milk prices up and down every few years. Many farmers have taken a new approach to business. The Dairy Extension Tour in Central Minnesota Oct. 25-26 brought producers and educators from Minnesota and South Dakota to four farms that have thought a little bit outside the box on their operations: consistent expansion, robots, adding locations across the country and a cheese plant.

Carlson Dairy, LLP

This farm just a few miles from Willmar is as family-oriented as you can get. It began in 1891 with Chad Carlson’s great-grandfather. Today Chad, his brother Carl and their father Curtney are in charge, with another generation up and coming.

The brothers began a process of growth when they came back home in the late 1990s. They jumped to about 400 cows in 2000, adding on a double-10 milking parlor. Now they milk 1,400 Holsteins in a double-18.

“Four-hundred was the only number we really decided on,” Chad Carlson said. “We felt we needed that number to justify a parlor and a free-stall barn. When we picked that number, things cash-flowed really well. By 2004, we had heifers coming out our ears and we didn’t know what to do with them. So we added on 100 stalls and added on to our special needs barn.”

Since then expansion has been on an every four years basis, seemingly unintentionally. In 2008, the Carlsons purchased the herd from Chad’s in-laws, who were looking to retire, and switched to sand bedding and cross-ventilation. Chad said he’s happy with those switches.

This year they are building a heifer barn with 900 free stalls for the heifers to stay in starting at 5 months of age.

“We’ve been raising about 70 percent of our heifers ourselves forever, and we keep growing but our heifer facilities haven’t,” Chad said.

The Carlsons sell milk to First District in Litchfield. They direct-load milk into tankers, one of the first dairies in Minnesota to do so.

Youngren Dairy

Just down the road from the Carlsons are the Youngrens — Mike, his son Trevon, and Mike’s brother Dean.

They made a big switch this summer and are still looking to see how it plays out. So far, so good.

“Our facility was 20-40 years old, a free-stall barn,” Mike Youngren said. “We were about 250 percent overcrowded. We are 60 and 62, so we decided it was time to do something or get out of milking. We decided to go with the robots.”

They moved into the robot facility on June 7, with six Lely Astronaut milking robots.

“The first month or two was challenging,” Mike said. “The heifers were the quickest to go through. There were three cows we couldn’t get onto it because the udders were too low.”

The Youngrens have a separate milking parlor in case a cow gets spooked by the robot, as Trevon put it. The system does a good job evaluating the animals and makes sure they get fed the same diet. It tracks their rumination and body weight, milking two times a day.

Mike said they are at 350 cows right now and hope to be up to 400 by the winter. Like the Carlsons, the Youngrens use sand bedding for the cows, which they also like.

Riverview, LLP

Although Riverview has about 1,000 employees today, the company hasn’t forgotten its roots as a small family farm. The location, which started as a beef farm in 1939, became an LLP in 1995, which is when the dairy began.

Natasha Mortenson, who works in community relations for the company, praised its ability to both invest in its employees and ensure animal health. The dairy at Morris today has about 8,500 head, between the original Riverview Dairy and Darnen.

Riverview produces dairy, beef, agronomy and construction. What’s unique about it is that it’s not confined to its Morris location: farms in Minnesota, South Dakota and Nebraska raise beef and dairy cattle, and heifers and dairy calves are in Arizona and New Mexico.

When a cow in Minnesota or South Dakota gives birth, her calf is brought right away to Moore Calves facility a few minutes away from the Morris dairy, where it stays for 4-5 days. Then it gets on a truck and makes the 18-hour journey to New Mexico. Mortenson said only five calves out of 39,000 have been lost.

At the Darnen dairy in Morris, milking is done on a rotating parlor for these mostly Jersey cows, with a few Holsteins mixed in. They produce 150,000 gallons of milk every day, all of which goes toward cheese making.

One of the big initiatives Riverview has taken on is not using antibiotics and instead focusing on good nutrition and cleanliness for the cows.

Mortenson discussed the Be Kind and Be Safe policies, that ensure a calm, safe environment for employees. Every employee in every department watches a video about interacting with cattle. The Be Safe program has helped Riverview dramatically improve its OSHA rating.

The company also strives to provide for its employees. It is 70 percent employee-owned and filled with immigrants. Riverview provides housing and financial literacy courses for them to help them set roots down in the United States.

Seminar discussion

Between farms on Oct. 26, two University of Minnesota educators talked about dairy marketing. Betty Berning, a regional Extension educator in St. Cloud, discussed the market outlook for milk.

She reminded producers that the market is driven by supply and demand.

“We’ve got a lot of milk right now,” she said.

To mitigate what the market’s impacts might be, Berning gave four steps: Know your cost of production, talk to your lender, maximize assets and make a risk management plan.

Next, Brad Hein, an associate dairy professor, presented his research on the difference between organic and conventional dairies.

Organic milk prices has increased due to high demand. Despite the challenges of not using antibiotics or milk replacer, the net return per cow for organic in Minnesota in 2015 was $1,234, compared to $48 per cow in conventional operations.

Although Hein found production volume to be lower on the organic side, he pointed out that there are other aspects besides milk production to look at. He found culling rates to be lower in the organic herds, for instance, and that  organic milk had higher amounts of Omega-3 fatty acids and lower Omega-6 than conventional whole milk.

Hein is involved with a study at the West Central Resource and Outreach Center that compares an organic herd with a low-input conventional herd.

Jer-Lindy Farms/Redhead Creamery

Jerry Jennissen decided he wanted to do something of service as a teenager. So he went into dairy farming, like his father and grandfather. He purchased his first herd of registered Holsteins in 1979 and hasn’t stopped. He currently has 176 production cows.

He and his wife, Linda, have four daughters with red hair. One of them, Alise, decided to become a cheese maker as a teenager. After studying agriculture industry and marketing, she spent time in Vermont and Wisconsin with her husband Lucas Sjostrom. Vermont and Wisconsin have the most farmstead cheese plants in the country. When she returned home to North Fork Township, she was inspired to start one herself.

That’s how Redhead Creamery was born. Alise started making cheese full-time on Halloween 2014. Now she makes cheese up to four times a week, depending on the season.

Her father offers farm tours on Saturdays many weeks of the year, indicating that there’s a high interest in how artisan cheese is made.

Alise gets the milk for her cheese basically straight from the cows. She doesn’t have to wait for it to cool — she got an exemption from this legal requirement on her milk hauler’s license. Jerry sends it to her warm and she pasteurizes it at 145 Degrees  F, before it goes into her cheese process. Seventy percent of the milk their cows produce goes toward cheese production.

Redhead Creamery has become a local landmark, with road signs pointing to it from miles away.


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