A little different topic this week on the Blog.
LaBudde Group has a philosophy of continuous learning that comes from our leader and owner, Rich Erickson. We each include educational goals into our yearly planning so we are all improving both professionally and personally. This week I wanted to highlight what I think is a very unique educational opportunity that our newest salesman, Michael, took advantage of. PDPW (Professional Dairy Producers of Wisconsin) is a member organization in Wisconsin that helps grow and educate dairy farmers and their employees. Labudde has been a member and supporter of this organization since early on, and participate in many of their great programs. Michael traveled recently to attend some on the farm training they offered for non-farm employees.
This 3 day class let a small group of attendees who didn’t grow up on a farm or have a formal agriculture education get to learn from the farmers themselves on how their dairy operations run. I have the privilege of growing up around cows and getting my hands on education starting about age 8, but not everyone in the feed business or serving farmers has that same opportunity. Michael is hoping what he learned will help him connect and understand the problems and concerns modern producers have and help develop solutions that help feed their livestock and grow quality food for humans and pets around the world.
I asked Michael a few questions about his days on the farm. Here is his recap along with some great photos.
1. What dairy operations did you visit for your hand on learning?
“The first day was on Koepke Farms in Oconomowoc. The Koepke’s farm 1,000 acres and milk around 350 Holsteins. With a herd that produces fantastic milk components it only makes sense that it should be used to make cheese. That cheese is the their own brand, LaBelle, that is found in multiple grocery stores, restaurants, and farmers markets here in southeastern Wisconsin. This farm is a multi-generational farm established back in 1875. The Koepke’s knowledge and passion for their land and animals is clearly evident by their happy cows who are glad to meet you with a friendly lick, amazing milk components, organized buildings, and beautiful homestead.
Our second day was spent on Blue Star Dairy’s Arlington location. The Meinholz name is synonymous with dairy farming in Wisconsin and the Arlington operation is a green build operation that was added recently to the already existing Middleton and DeForest farms. All three locations milk a total of 2,600 cows and to feed all those ladies they work around 6,000 acres of land. The facilities in Arlington are impressive. I was amazed at the organization and quantity of feed on site, the sand/manure separator that allows them to recycle up to 95% of their sand bedding (https://www.manuremanager.com/dairy/keep-it-moving-12071), and the technology and construction of the milking parlor. The milk from Blue Star Dairy is sold to Grande Cheese, mostly known for their Italian style cheeses.”
2. What 3 most important skills did you bring home?
“Being able to better empathize and communicate with people in the dairy industry. Learning some common terminology used on farms about the animals and processes.
Gaining a greater insight into how the products I provide into a dairy have an impact on the cost and actual production of milk. These feed costs get broken down into the pennies and the smallest changes in product I provide can have a large impact on production.
The last would be the importance of crops and land management. There are so many variables that determine how good a harvest there will be; some are controllable and others are not. Other aspects of this include manure management systems, equipment maintenance and availability, crop rotations, timing of harvest, and what to do with all the crops once harvested.”
3. What surprised you the most from your class?
“The first surprise was how friendly and curious the cows were of visitors on the farm. This is a testament to how these animals are treated extremely well. Any animal (dogs, cats, cows, etc.) that are being mistreated tend to shy away from human contact; the cows on both the Koepke’s and Meinholz’s operations were complete opposites. There was a near stampede at Blue Star with cows trying to follow our group around the barn.
I was also surprised at the amount of information that needs to be tracked on every operation from feed costs, maintenance, animal health, crops, and employees, to name a few. The number of decisions that need to be made on a daily basis and the information now available to farmers in regards to their animals and crops is overwhelming. A great quote I heard during our visits was from John Koepke who stated ‘the difference between a good farmer and a bad farmer can be one week.’ Farming, like life, does not always go as planned.”
4. How do you think this will benefit you most in doing business with dairyman?
“My goal going into the training was to know how I fit into the overall operation of a farmer. I was also hoping to gain more knowledge of the dairy industry in order to be more personable and empathize during conversations.”
5. Any other points you felt were interesting?
“I am absolutely blown away by the amount of information available and decisions that need to be made daily. From the cows wearing activity trackers to the timing of harvest, farmers are inundated with new data and analytics that can help a farm succeed but also apparent is the knowledge passed down from generations past is never forgotten.One thing I know for sure is you must love cows to be a successful dairyman. These animals are world class athletes in regards to nutrition and production. Farms are dependent on cows be able to produce; they are given everything they need to be healthy, comfortable, and happy. There is also great passion for the land as well. These farmers are banking on this land producing food for not only this year but for future generations. Rotations, cover crops, drain tile systems, manure and fertilizer application are all part of ensuring the land is productive today and just as productive twenty years from now.”
We thank Professional Dairy Producers of Wisconsin for putting on this great training opportunity. Many of us who grow up around the dairy industry forget how much knowledge is needed to run a dairy operation. All dairymen are happy to hear that those who visit and spend some real time learning how a dairy works, come away with a positive outlook at it and see the small, everyday things they do that make a huge difference in animal care and quality of the product they produce.
I hope if you haven’t visited a modern farm lately, you seek out a location that will let you arrange a tour. Farmers love to tell their story. They are striving every day to feed the world in a sustainable way utilizing a million tools.
What new things did you learn today???