Making milk without the grain scoop

Grazing cows

Five cuttings, TMR, frequent paddock shifts work for Barkmans

By Martha Hoffman Kerestes

Fresno, Ohio — While it might seem surprising coming from a forage-only dairy farmer, Ervin Barkman finds winter the ideal time to make milk. Winter production peaks at 52 lbs./cow thanks to top-quality baleage, grassfed-adapted genetics, and lush fall grass when many fresh cows are getting started.

After a decade without the grain scoop and seven years of getting a premium for it on the CROPP/Organic Valley Grassmilk route, Ervin wouldn’t go back to feeding grain. Improved cow health and longevity along with better financials make grass-only dairy an easy choice for his situation.

Butterfat for the predominantly Fleckvieh herd runs around 4.2% (but has been up to 4.8%) and protein 3.2%. Total milk shipped comes to about 12,800 lbs./cow in about 295 days in milk.

The key to these numbers is excellent grazed and stored forage.

“It’s all about forage,” Ervin explains. “Dry matter intake is very important. If you have good forage and you keep it in front of the cows, there’s no reason you won’t have good dry matter intake. And the more dry matter intake you have, the more milk you’re getting.”

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Grazing, organics and high milk production

Grazing cows

Heckmans target quality forages, both grazed and harvested

By Martha Hoffman Kerestes

Yorkshire, Ohio — Thomas Heckman used to graze because he had to for the organic market. Now it’s part of the system that makes a 23,000-pound rolling herd average, sometimes without the need for a protein supplement.

Thomas and Jamie Heckman and their family milk 105 organic purebred Holstein cows and manage 340 acres. Sixty-five acres are in pasture for the dairy herd, 250 are for hay and row crops, and around 25 acres are for grazing young stock.

Top-quality forages
Thomas used to graze just enough to meet the organic grazing minimums, but with local land values at $20,000 to $25,000/acre, he’s started managing for more grazed dry matter to get the most out of each acre.

These days he feels he’s getting a good value, with 60% of dry matter intake coming from pasture from April through June and 40% for the rest of the grazing season, going as far as November when there’s enough pasture growth.

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A business built on ‘doing the right thing’

Family in pasture with cows

Alexandres want to provide what customers desire

By Martha Hoffman Kerestes

Crescent City, California — Organic, grassfed, A2, regenerative — all of these methods and terms are important to thousands of alternative dairy marketing efforts across the U.S. and beyond.

And the Alexandre family in far northwestern California have been near the forefront with all of them.

Blake Alexandre and his wife, Stephanie, gained organic certification in 2001. About 10 years later, Alexandre Family Farm was the first to supply CROPP/Organic Valley’s Grassmilk program.

Some 15 years ago they started breeding to A2 bulls, and today most of their milk is A2/A2. More recently, Alexandre Family Farms was the first dairy to earn Regenerative Organic Certified designation under “beyond organic” guidelines developed by the Rodale Institute.

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The Farmers’ Creamery aims to develop sales


By Joel McNair

Mio, Michigan — No one ever said that small-scale dairy processing and marketing offers an easy way to make a living.

That’s certainly been the case for the folks at The Farmers’ Creamery who purchased a recently closed dairy processing enterprise in 2019, moved it to a newly built facility, and opened for business just as the Covid-19 pandemic was getting underway in early 2020.

Owned and operated by members of the local Amish community, The Farmers’ Creamery is viewed both as a business opportunity and a means of keeping small-scale dairy viable at the northern edge of Lower Michigan’s farming country.

More than two years after last visiting with Graze for an article that appeared in the April 2021 edition, the creamery’s business manager, Edward Yoder, can point to progress in developing new products and distributing them throughout most of Michigan and a few neighboring areas.

Customer feedback has generally been very good, and Edward says a number of changes that will take effect in the coming months offer promise for the future.

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Coordinating beef grazing and marketing

Beef on pasture

Farmers United says grassfed market is there for the taking

By Martha Hoffman Kerestes

Statesville, North Carolina — Sam Dobson saw a need to link grassfed beef graziers with wholesale markets looking for volume and consistency.

That’s why he founded Farmers United Cattle Company, LLC two years ago. Dobson has been building the business around filling that need, and says it is producing fast growth and interest from both graziers and buyers within its main operating area of the southeastern and Mid-Atlantic states.

Farmers United mainly works in Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia, Tennessee, Kentucky and Ohio, with some production in Pennsylvania and New York as well.

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Raw milk sales drive a diversified business

Cows on pasture

Borntragers say raw milk, OAD and grassfed are keys to their growing direct sales enterprise

By Martha Hoffman Kerestes

Hutchinson, Kansas — Half a dozen years ago, Loyd and Arlene Borntrager saw the handwriting on the wall for their conventional milk market.

With no organic or grassfed routes available in southcentral Kansas, it looked like growing their existing raw milk market and pivoting to focus on direct marketing offered the best shot at keeping the dairy profitable and viable.

With hard work and strong marketing efforts, that goal has become a reality. Today Loyd, Arlene and their five children milk 40 grassfed cows once a day on 300 acres, with a diverse set of other farm-raised products filling out the operation.

Raw milk is the cornerstone of the business and usually the reason people seek out the farm. Customers will often add other products out of convenience while they’re getting milk.

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