From the Farmer's Tractor
September 26, 2010
How did you get into dairy farming?
Growing up I did not live on a farm. My father worked for a local bank. I always looked forward to Saturday when the bank would be closed, and I could go with my dad to help my Grandpa on his dairy farm. I helped on my Grandpa’s dairy as often as I could until he sold his cows when I was in high school. I then worked for another farm in our community. I have always loved farming and thought it would be a great life and great way to raise a family.
After high school I wanted to have a farm of my own. I looked at several different options, but the one that seemed to be the best fit was to rent my Grandpa’s old dairy that was sitting vacant and start milking cows. My wife (who vowed she would never marry a dairy farmer) and I bought our first Jersey heifers three months after we were married and have been milking cows ever since. Since we started out, we have both graduated from Utah State with degrees in Agriculture. We have purchased our own dairy, and we are now raising six children on our dairy farm.
We milk our cows at 5:00 AM and 4:00 PM, and raise all of our heifer calves. Calves will be fed milk until they are about two months old, and then they are old enough to be weaned off of milk and fed hay and a grain mix that is designed to provide plenty of protein and energy for the growth and development of the heifer. The heifers will calve and begin milking at about 22 to 24 months old.
How have your farming practices changed over the last 10 years?
In order to be successful, we have to take advantage of every opportunity to be more efficient and productive in everything we do. We have increased our emphasis on cow comfort, as this increases milk production. We have started using sand as the bedding for our cows instead of straw. We have rebuilt some of our cow housing to increase the comfort of the cows.
We are also very concerned about the diet we feed our cows. We have started to test the milk for Milk Urea Nitrogen (MUN’s) which helps us more accurately balance the protein level in a cow’s diet, ensuring that we do not waste money by over feeding protein which will not be utilized by the cow.
There are always new technologies and techniques that are being developed to help make dairies more efficient, and we try to study those and see which ones will work on our dairy. Some of these changes seem small and simple, but they can add up and make a big difference when it comes time to pay our bills.
How will dairy farming evolve in the next five years?
I think one of the most important things we will need to do is to engage the public, explain why we do the things we do and help them understand the benefit to them of our modern production practices. It will no longer be enough to spend all of our time on the dairy and produce high quality milk; we must be more engaged with our consumer. We will especially need to be concerned with animal welfare issues and make sure to explain to the public why we treat our cows the way we do.
In the past we as an industry have mostly concerned ourselves with issues on the farm; that will not be good enough in the future.
What is your greatest challenge as a dairy farmer?
One of our biggest challenges is to find time and energy to keep up with the work. Our cows must be cared for 365 days a year regardless of whatever else may be happening at the time. We work long days in all types of weather. While we enjoy what we do, it does get tiring from time to time.
How does a farmer know what a retailer will want a year from now?
One of the nice things about milk is that it can be made into so many different consumable products. So we as farmers continue to produce the milk, and the processors decide what the consumers will be wanting. Our milk can be used to make cheese, butter, yogurt, ice cream, or any number of other products to meet the demands of the market.
What steps are you taking toward conservation on the farm?
We spend a lot of time and money managing the waste from our dairy. We contain all runoff water in a lagoon which allows us to use this water to irrigate and fertilize a growing crop rather than allow it to contaminate local streams and ground water. We also store the manure to use as fertilizer for the local farmers. By taking regular soil samples and having them analyzed for the nutrient content, we can determine just the right amount of manure to apply to ensure we provide optimal growing conditions for the crop, while not over applying manure and causing harm to the environment.
Also, by monitoring our MUN’s and working with a trained animal nutritionist, we can balance the diet of our cows so as to limit the amount of nutrients excreted by the cows.
Do you sell any of your products locally, and if so, what is the process?
We sell all of our milk to a processing plant who processes it into cheese for sale to the public. We have looked at processing our own milk and selling cheese or yogurt directly to the public, but it takes so much of our time and energy to care for the cows and produce the milk that we are not sure it would be smart to take on the additional job of processing the milk.
What kinds of reactions do you get from consumers when they meet you in person?
Usually the consumers I meet have respect for the job that I do and enjoy the dairy products that their family eats. My wife has a sister who lives with her family in New York, and they have very little contact with farmers except for when they come home to visit. The last time they were here, her four-year old boy saw me and asked when I was going to get into my “farmer clothes.” I guess he thought I should be wearing boots and a straw hat, but usually I dress and look like anyone else.