A grassfed dairy dream come true

Hand on pasture

Bachmans making good progress on expensive land

By Martha Hoffman Kerestes

Rittman, Ohio — In this day when a lot of people have given up on the idea, Greg Bachman might offer inspiration to those who want to start dairy farming without access to a family farm or lots of money.

Greg didn’t grow up on a dairy farm. But early on he decided he wanted to dairy as he watched his grandfather and then his uncle milk cows on a small farm that was eventually certified organic.

He thought the barn door might be closed when his uncle retired and sold the property. Yet even without access to a family farm, and in the face of high-dollar land — prices are $15,000 to $20,000/acre these days in this populated area of Ohio — Greg didn’t give up on his dairy dream.

Four years of employment in the construction business confirmed to Greg that working for someone else wasn’t a good fit for his personality.

Continue reading “A grassfed dairy dream come true”

Cutting back, but making more

Cows on pasture

de Jongs changed their lives with grassfed and branding their milk

By Martha Hoffman Kerestes

Slocomb, Alabama — Jan and Rinske de Jong did large-scale conventional dairy, and it didn’t go well. They’ve gladly traded it for their life today on a smaller certified organic grassfed herd milked once a day for the farm’s Working Cows Dairy brand.

Jan and Rinske bootstrapped their conventional dairy in southeastern Alabama, starting with just $5,000 in 1985 when they emigrated from The Netherlands.

By the turn of the century they’d grown to 750 confinement cows milked three times a day on 600 purchased acres. But the farm was on the verge of bankruptcy, and the constant workload was unsustainable.

It wasn’t working
Something needed to change. The de Jongs chose to go smaller and find a niche market for their production. Milking about 250 cows for Horizon Organic beginning in 2009, things looked better.

But Horizon terminated the contract two years later, saying there weren’t enough other organic dairies in the area to make it a viable route.

Jan and Rinske had three options: stop dairying, go back to conventional, or start bottling milk. The latter looked like the best choice.

Continue reading “Cutting back, but making more”

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.”

Continue reading “Making milk without the grain scoop”

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.

Continue reading “Grazing, organics and high milk production”

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.

Continue reading “A business built on ‘doing the right thing’”

Grassfed aiding dairy quality of life

Cows on pasture

For Bontragers, the money is the same, but lifestyle is better

By Martha Hoffman Kerestes

Shipshewana, Indiana — The simplicity of grassfed organic dairy is one of the biggest reasons Chris and Nora Bontrager and their family aren’t planning to go back to their regular organic days.

Three years into grassfed, Chris, 32, says income is about the same with grassfed organic as it was with conventional organic, as grassfed’s higher milk price makes up for its lower milk production.

He sees the big advantage with grassfed as being the time, equipment and input savings from not growing and feeding ear corn and corn silage. Not buying a protein grain supplement and fertility for the corn also helps. He appreciates spending more time with his family and working in the garden or around the house. Or fishing.

Continue reading “Grassfed aiding dairy quality of life”