Dairy Farms May Look Different, but They Share One Goal

All dairy farms, even though they may look vastly different, strive for the same common goals: Having healthy and happy animals, making safe milk, caring for the environment, providing food for everyone to enjoy and promoting a safe workplace for employees. One type of dairy farm is a rotational grazing dairy farm, which is the type I grew up on and am most familiar with.


Things on a rotational grazing dairy farm run differently than on other farms; each farm is unique like each family is unique. On our family farm we have around 200 acres of pasture, which is sectioned off into smaller areas for the cows to graze at different times during the day. The younger animals also spend as much time as possible on pasture. Every day I am lucky to see our cows right from our house windows.


When our cows come into the barn to be milked twice a day, they get a TMR (total mixed ration) which is a complete meal with all the nutrients they need to make milk, in addition to the grass they graze on all day. We also have barns with sand stalls where the cows can comfortably lay down. During the winter months, the younger animals are in barns and we feed them a TMR.


A grazing dairy farm has different tasks compared to farms that have their cows housed year-round in freestall barns. One type of farm isn’t better than the other — they are just different. Some days I spend more time on a quad, or four-wheeler, checking fence and cattle than I spend on my feet. Regular visits and calls from our neighbors are cause for alarm, as it usually means the cows are out again. At the end of each day, my family’s goals are the same as our dairy peers: To raise healthy cows who give us high-quality milk.

-Miriam Cook

Miriam Cook will be a senior in the fall of 2018 at Pewamo-Westphalia High School. She lives and works on her family’s grazing dairy farm year-round. Her passion for agriculture started with the family farm and has expanded through her involvement in 4-H and FFA. Not only does she have a strong passion for dairy, but she loves to work with her Nigerian dwarf goats, horses, steers, ducks and, at times, pigs. She hopes to continue to gain knowledge on all things agriculture through an agriculture degree in college. With her increased knowledge, she plans to continue to teach others and maybe one day come back to the family farm to help feed the population. Miriam is participating in the Michigan Dairy Ambassador program.

The Life of a Farmer’s Daughter at College: Bringing the Farm to School

I had the best childhood growing up on my family’s 600-head dairy farm in the thumb of Michigan. There were always people around and things to do. At any point in the day, I could go outside and find a number of my family members. However, I never truly realized the impact that the farm had on my life until I moved away for college two years ago. Once I was away, I missed the farm more than I ever imagined.

I am a business student at Central Michigan University (CMU) in Mt. Pleasant, Michigan. While I am lucky to drive by a few cornfields on my way to school, Mt. Pleasant is nothing like the farm. I am no longer surrounded by the cows or my family. I can no longer smell the aromas from the farm, like the feed we give our cows or the sawdust (or straw) they lie in. For the first two years of my college career, I jumped on every opportunity to go back to the farm while I looked for ways to bring the farm to school with me. My school does not have any agricultural majors and transferring to a school that did was not a practical option.


Half way through my sophomore year, I finally figured out how to incorporate the farm life into my studies. As a member of the Honors Program at CMU, I am required to complete a capstone research project graduate. While there are specific requirements for the project, we are given a lot of freedom to choose a topic that interests us.

For the last 10 months I have been working on my capstone project which researches the effects of social media marketing on the dairy industry. This allow me to remain involved in the dairy industry while I am away at school, share my dairy story with a new community and make a contribution to the industry that has made me who I am today.

My overall goal with this project is to determine current consumer perceptions of the dairy industry and how social media marketing affects those perceptions. I will use those findings to create a social media guidebook to help dairy producers create and build their own social media platforms to share stories and facts about the dairy industry to consumers. The project should be complete and guidebooks ready for distribution this time next year!

It has been so exciting to find a place for my passion while at CMU. I hope to educate those lead astray by anti-dairy social media campaigns and reassure those with questions that we take care of our cows and provide safe, wholesome dairy foods. I am extremely blessed to have spent my childhood growing up on a dairy farm and I want to share that experience and passion with as many people as I can. Everyone deserves to experience the dedication and care of the dairy community and I hope that my capstone project can help make that happen in some way.



17th annual Great Lakes Regional Dairy Conference to help dairy producers weather the tough agriculture economy

The 17th annual Great Lakes Regional Dairy Conference will offer new tools and strategies to help dairy producers stay afloat in these tough economic times. The conference will be held Feb. 7-9, 2019, at the Bavarian Inn and Conference Center in Frankenmuth, Michigan.

The United Dairy Industry of Michigan (UDIM) will host an informal preconference session on Wednesday, Feb. 6, at 7 p.m. to provide an overview of the organization’s dairy promotion activities and answer attendees’ questions about UDIM programs. The meeting is free and open to people who aren’t registered for the whole conference.

Conference Sessions

The opening session on Thursday, Feb. 7, will feature Michigan State University Extension experts sharing techniques for helping farm employees become more engaged, productive and self-directed.

Next, producers will hear from Tom Vilsack, CEO of the U.S. Dairy Export Council and former U.S. Agriculture Secretary, who will share his outlook on U.S. trade relations for agriculture in general and the dairy industry specifically. Vilsack will discuss the current state of trade relations, where trade is headed and what it all means for the agriculture and dairy industries.

After lunch, Rob Rettig, a partner at New Vision Farms in northwest Ohio, will provide an overview of the operation’s unique approach to using partnerships to succeed now and as the agriculture landscape changes in the future. In a later breakout session, Rettig will share more in-depth information and answer producer questions. In addition to Rettig, producers can choose to hear from John Blanchfield on how to shockproof their farms for leaner times ahead and how to communicate better with their bankers or learn from Ev Thomas of Oakpoint Agronomics about predicting forage quality to improve their operations’ bottom line.

The afternoon will wrap up with an inside look at a Texas dairy in the producer perspective session. Donald DeJong, owner and CEO of AgriVision Farm Management LLC and co-owner and chief operating officer of Natural Prairie Dairy, will share an overview of his operation, which is one of the largest family-owned organic dairy farms in the U.S. He’ll also discuss how AgriVision Farm Management, a collaboration of family-owned and -operated businesses, works to enhance the dairy industry.

The evening will feature a reception, an exhibitor showcase and the Great Lakes Commercial Heifer Extravaganza XIV Sale.

The conference continues Friday morning, Feb. 8, with Ross Veltema of Top Grade Aggregates and Allen Bonthuis of AIS Equipment. The pair will offer a brief look at how agricultural producers can adapt waste reduction strategies from the aggregate industry to expand profit margins and improve bottom lines.

Next Kevin Dhuyvetter, a dairy technical consultant with Elanco Animal Health, will discuss the economic “macro-micro conundrum” – when economic conditions that are advantageous for the dairy industry as a whole may not be for individual producers, and vice versa. Dhuyvetter will also explain the economics of marginal milk.

Then producers will hear about current and emerging precision dairy technologies and how they relate to management, herd health and estrus from Elizabeth Eckelkamp, dairy Extension specialist and assistant professor at the University of Tennessee. Eckelkamp will highlight the economic impact of precision technologies and point out what producers need to know to make wise technology decisions for their dairies.

Drew Vermeire, president and consulting nutritionist with Nouriche Nutrition Ltd., will discuss economic strategies for raising the healthy, productive calves that are the future of dairy operations.

The morning will wrap up with a session focused on rediscovering how to thrive in tough times. If there’s one thing Mark Jewell is intimately familiar with, it’s living in survival mode. During his childhood, Jewell’s family was touched by events ranging from parental illness to fallout from animal activism. Jewell’s takeaway from these experiences is that we can learn to thrive even in the worst situations. He’ll share his “surviving to thriving” stories and uncover the ways we all can find light in the darkest of times.

Friday afternoon, attendees can choose to attend one of three educational workshops:

  • Dairy Research at MSU: Michigan Alliance for Animal Agriculture Projects – Adam Lock, Associate Professor, MSU Department of Animal Science

Since 2015, the Michigan Alliance for Animal Agriculture, or M-AAA, has supported research and Extension projects that aim to enhance the animal agriculture economy of Michigan. Attendees will learn about the results of projects funded by the M-AAA program on topics such as dairy cow nutrition, health, welfare, and reproduction; dairy farm management; and workforce development.

  • Learn From the Aggregate Industry to Expand Your Margins –Ross Veltema, Top Grade Aggregates, and Allen Bonthuis, AIS Equipment

In this follow-up to their earlier presentation, Veltema and Bonthuis will discuss how economic analysis and waste trimming strategies from the aggregate industry translate to agriculture. Attendees will have a chance to ask questions and learn key strategies to expand their margins.

  • Economic Considerations for Raising and Culling Dairy Replacement Heifers –Michael Overton, Advisor on Dairy Informatics, Elanco Animal Health

Explore the estimated cost of raising dairy replacement heifers from birth through calving, including the impact of mortality and elective culling. Michael Overton, D.V.M., will review an economic model that includes the contrasting effects of herd size, liquid diet and housing type. He will also provide an economic evaluation of a heifer culling strategy that includes both the extra cost and potential increase in value.

The final day of the conference (Saturday, Feb. 9) will feature the annual meetings of the Michigan Jersey and Michigan Holstein Associations, starting at 9 a.m.


Adult, student and farm registration options are available. Register by Jan. 25, 2019, to receive a discount of up to $25 a day. Online registration closes at midnight on Feb. 3, 2019. On-site registration is subject to availability.

For more information about the conference or to register online visit www.glrdc.org. To register by phone, call 517-884-7089.

Michigan Dairy Ambassador Program Gearing Up for 2019, Applications Due Jan. 11

Any Michigan high school and college students interested in dairy and/or pursuing a career in the dairy industry have until Jan. 11 to apply for the 2019 Michigan Dairy Ambassador Scholarship and Leadership Program. Continuing with updates instituted last year, the program offers dairy communications training to interested applicants.

All applicants meeting baseline criteria will be invited to attend a day-long program kickoff on Feb. 8, the second day of the Great Lakes Regional Dairy Conference (GLRDC). Attendees will be considered 2019 Michigan Dairy Ambassadors and will be equipped with the messaging and practice to effectively communicate with consumers in-person and online.

Participation throughout the year in trainings, dairy events and promotion will earn points with the opportunity to advance to the interview round. Applications, resume and participation and interview will be considered for scholarship recipient selections. Two scholarships will be awarded to the representatives, one to a junior winner and another to a senior winner.

The senior division is reserved for college students up to age 22, with the winner receiving a $1,500 scholarship. The junior division is limited to high school students in grades nine to 12, and the winner receives $1,000 that can be applied toward higher education or the purchase of a dairy animal within the upcoming year. Applicants are not required to have a dairy farm background, but they must plan to pursue a career related to the dairy industry. The scholarship program is funded through a benefit auction held at the annual Great Lakes Regional Dairy Conference (GLRDC).

Students interested in applying for the 2019 Michigan Dairy Ambassador Scholarship and Leadership Program can download an application from www.glrdc.org or contact Megghan Honke Seidel at 517-884-7089. Applications must be submitted electronically to 1glrdc@gmail.com and will be accepted until Jan. 11.

This year’s event will take place in Frankenmuth, Michigan on February 7 – 9, 2019. For the conference schedule and registration information, visit www.glrdc.org or contact Megghan Honke Seidel.

Great Lakes Regional Dairy Conference to feature producers from across the country

Producers from across the country will share their strategies and experiences with in vitro fertilization and robotics at this year’s Great Lakes Regional Dairy Conference (GLRDC).

The 16th annual GLRDC will be held Feb. 8-10 in Mt. Pleasant, Michigan. Producers arriving early may join the United Dairy Industry of Michigan (UDIM) at a 7 p.m. session Feb. 7 to learn how dairy promotion dollars are used across the state. The conference will continue Thursday and Friday with sessions for producers and a small trade show. The conference concludes Feb. 10 with the Holstein Breed Association meeting.

The conference features an extensive line-up of experts providing updates on the industry.  In addition, producers from across the country will gather to share their knowledge on in vitro fertilization (IVF) and robotics.

The producers featured on the IVF panel include:

Tyler Boyd – A fourth-generation registered Jersey breeder from Tennessee. Since 2013, he has served as the general manager of Jerseyland Sires in Hilmar, California. Jerseyland Sires is an AI company that works closely with the 12 dairy farm families who make up the organization, in addition to its marketing partner, Select Sires, to provide elite Jersey bulls. Previously, he worked at World Wide Sires. He oversees all daily operations, including the Primus female IVF Program for Jerseyland Sires. He is a graduate of Vanderbilt University and Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University.

Brent Wickstrom – A third-generation producer who handles the day-to-day management and record keeping,  oversees labor, and has now started the IVF program on their farm, located in Hilmar, California Brent saw this technology as an opportunity to rapidly reproduce from the farms group of elite animals, improve herd genetics and have high-end animals to market in various sales. The operation started in 1973 with 500 cows and now has more than 2,400 animals. Brent graduated from Cal Poly in 2013 with a major in dairy science and minors in ag business and crop science.

Steve Buschur – Plain-Knoll Dairy, located in New Weston, Ohio, is a family-operated farm that has been in business since the end of WWII. It formally incorporated in 1982.  The farm features about 680 registered Holsteins with many uncommonly high-genomic cows. The farm has focused for many years on using top genetics to breed well-balanced, long-lasting cows capable of high production. As a result, the farm has been marketing 30 to 45 percent of their herd each year for the past 25 years. This summer the farm became a satellite location for a Trans Ova Genetics IVF facility.

In addition to learning more about IVF strategies, producers who attend GLRDC will have the opportunity to learn more about robotic milking systems. Producers who have installed robotic systems from Lely, DeLaval and GEA will share their experiences in a panel discussion. Hear about their successes and stumbles from installation to operation and their best management strategies to move their operations forward. Producers featured on the panel include:

Bill Gordon – A fifth-generation producer, Bill runs Gordons Roxburgh Farms located 35 miles northeast of Port Huron, Michigan, in Ontario, Canada. The operation milks 300 cows and raises all replacements on the farm, which comprises 900 acres owned and 35 acres rented. The farm started using robots in April 2016 with five GEA MIone robots. An additional robot was added in March 2017, and there are plans to add two more in the near future as quota purchases allow and additional family members return home to the operation.

Jeremy Higgins – Dairy Manager of an operation located in Mendon, Michigan. The operation was started more than 30 years ago by Al Riedstra, who has another operation in Rolling Prairie, Indiana. In total, they milk 4500 cows with 480 on Delaval robots.  Jeremy has been with the operation for four years and has served the dairy industry for 25 years.

Brian Houin – Third generation producers and one of six family members helping manage Homestead Dairy, located in Plymouth, Indiana. They milk 3200 cows and manage all of their young stock. A portion of the herd is milked using a 24-robot Lely system. The other cows are milked in a traditional rotary system.  Brian joined the operation in 2003 when he graduated from Purdue University.

Martin brothers – The Martin brothers (Micah, Japheth, Clement) were raised on a 280-cow dairy and then started Milky Way Dairy in 2017, milking 300 cows on an AMS Galaxy robot system. The dairy is located in New Paris, Indiana. Their operation is unique in that they also bed the cows robotically and use a flush manure system in a cross-ventilation barn.

Visit www.glrdc.org to get the complete conference schedule or to register online. Participants can also register by phone by calling 517-884-7089. Individual (adult), student and farm registration options are available. Registering by Jan. 21, 2018, will save you up to $25 per day. Online registration closes Feb. 4, 2018, at midnight and on-site registrations are subject to availability.

16th annual Great Lakes Regional Dairy Conference slated for February in Mt. Pleasant, Michigan

EAST LANSING, Mich. – The 16th annual Great Lakes Regional Dairy Conference Feb. 8-10, 2018, at the Soaring Eagle Casino and Resort in Mt. Pleasant, Michigan, will shine the light on a variety of strategies producers can use to survive and thrive during one of the most critical periods in agriculture.

The United Dairy Industry of Michigan (UDIM) will host a session Wednesday, Feb. 7, at 7 p.m. to provide an overview of dairy promotion activities to dairy farmers who attend the conference or who live near the conference location. The informal meeting will provide an opportunity to share with dairy farmers how UDIM staff members work on their behalf to promote dairy across the state. It will give farmers an opportunity to ask questions about programs.

The conference kicks off Thursday, Feb. 8, with a pre-conference session in which Michigan producers and experts will examine the major drivers of the mailbox milk price and consider options that farmers have to influence or manage their milk check income.

Next, producers will hear from Gary Sipiorski of Vita Plus Inc. who will highlight the current status of the industry, and show producers where there is light and what they can do to guide their operations through the fog. Following the industry discussion, Mark Stephenson of the University of Wisconsin, will delve further into milk pricing and the challenges in the Midwest.

Then Nate Donnay, director of dairy market insight at INTL FCStone, will break down current global and local factors affecting milk prices and discuss what producers should expect in the next 12 to 24 months. He will also talk about the continued challenges and possible opportunities for the Great Lakes Region.

Late afternoon will feature Brandon Treichler, Select Milk Producers quality control veterinarian, explaining how labs test milk for quality parameters and how the results help identify opportunities to produce higher quality milk as well as basic troubleshooting strategies when bacteria counts rise. The focus will be on Lab Pasteurized Counts but other common bacteria counts will be discussed as well.

The afternoon will wrap up with Sipiorski, Stephenson, Donnay and Treichler offering an “All Things Milk Q and A” where producers can fire questions at the experts. The evening will feature an Exhibitor Showcase and the Great Lakes Commercial Heifer Extravaganza XIII Sale.

The conference continues Friday morning, Feb. 9, with Peter Hansen of the University of Florida who will decode the data and share strategies to help producers make the most profitable decisions for the future of their farms in regard to understanding the science of genomics. This session will be followed by a panel of producers from across the U.S. who will share their IVF strategies.

Kathryn Proudfoot of Ohio State University will explore how you can use dairy cow behavior to help you make better management and housing decisions at calving. She will discuss practical ways to allow dairy cows to seek the seclusion they look for as they prepare to give birth that will help you bust the bulk tank down the line.

The morning will wrap up with David Kohl, Virginia Tech professor emeritus, who will discuss how dairies can position themselves for success in the economic reset. This session will examine both the short-run and long-run economic and financial picture. What are the adjustments producers and lenders must make to position for success? Kohl will provide a new look at burn rate, not only on working capital, but also on core land equity, along with trends that will have an impact on the industry now and by 2030.

Friday afternoon, attendees will have the choice of three educational workshops to attend:

  • Lean Farming
    Susanne Pejstrup, Lean Farming Inc.
    Farmers will learn strategies in lean farming to help increase productivity. Pejstrup will explain how farmers can introduce standards, systematic work procedures and structure, and the culture of continuous improvement to improve the bottom line.
  • Labor Regulations and Legal Requirements
    Karl W. Butterer, Foster Swift Collins & Smith PC
    Labor policy, regulations and requirements are confusing and constantly changing. Attorney Butterer will share the latest changes in policy, and explain labor regulations and requirements that farmers need to know to ensure their operation is in compliance. Producers are encouraged to bring their questions to the session.
  • Robotics Producer Panel
    Producers who have installed robotic systems from Lely, DeLaval and GEA will share their experiences in a panel discussion. Hear their successes and stumbles from install to operation and their best management strategies to move their operations forward.

The Holstein Association will conduct their annual meeting on Saturday, Feb. 10, starting at 9 a.m.

Individual (adult), student and farm registration options are available. Registrations received by Jan. 21, 2018, will save you up to $25 per day. Online registration closes Feb. 4, 2018, at midnight. On-site registrations are subject to availability.

Visit www.glrdc.org to get the complete conference schedule or to register online. Participants can also register by phone by calling 517-884-7089.