On April 12, 2024, Michigan State University (MSU) initiated construction on their new MSU Dairy Cattle Teaching and Research Center. This $75 million endeavor marks a pivotal step forward, enabling researchers, students, and staff to embark on more ambitious ventures than ever before. The expansion of the dairy facility underscores the university’s commitment to fostering diverse research initiatives, while simultaneously enhancing the educational journey for students.

Dr. Barry Bradford, Professor in the Department of Animal Science and C. E. Meadows Endowed Chair in Dairy Management and Nutrition, explained “There has been a lot of discussion here on the farm’s design, and there are no absolute right or wrong answers. When considering all the trade-offs, we ended up making decisions that we feel will be most beneficial to the industry.” Dr. Bradford is one of three faculty leads, alongside Annette O’Conner, Chairperson of the Department of Large Animal Clinical Sciences and Professor of Epidemiology, and Wei Liao, Professor in the Department of Biosystems & Agricultural Engineering.

The MSU dairy currently milks 220 dairy cows and supports the research of faculty in the colleges of Agriculture and Natural Resources and Veterinary Medicine. With the expansion, the new dairy will have the capacity to hold 688 cows. There will be 32 tie stalls and around 550 milking cows. According to the timeline, the aim is to have cows producing milk in the new facility by the end of 2025. The main cow barn features a double twelve parallel parlor, two robotic milkers, twelve-cow pens for management research, and automated feed bins to feed specific diets and measure feed intake of 96 individual cows in freestall pens.

“There is nothing on Earth that you can build once and it’s going to serve you forever,” states Dr. Bradford. “We provide a lot of solutions within reproduction and genetics, nutrition, etc. and if we don’

t reinvest in the facility that lets us do that research, it disappears. Now we can continue and grow in those areas of strength research-wise to answer questions about the best way to do things in those spaces.”

The capacity for expansion creates opportunities for greater learning and research opportunities. More than doubling the herd size not only accommodates more research projects but also introduces new technology for enhanced data collection accuracy. MSU has never before utilized replicated pens to observe animal groups, despite many instances where it can be beneficial to study a group opposed to individual cows. Another exciting feature is the automated feed bins that give researchers the ease to precisely evaluate the cow’s feed intake. The two robotic milkers are another key area of research and learning opportunity where students can study the variations between a free flow or managed flow system. There is also additional space near the parlor for veterinary students to practice surgeries and cattle evaluations.

“The dairy industry has advanced well beyond the center’s current capacity, particularly in regard to research potential and teaching modern production practices,” said Doug Freeman, interim dean of the College of Veterinary Medicine. “As we train the next generation of veterinarians, the center will allow them to develop significantly enhanced skills in dairy production medicine, which will enable them to serve clients and better protect local and global food systems.”

The visitor center boasts expansive glass windows, providing an up-close view of cows in the parallel parlor. Additionally, the main building includes classrooms for 80 students, a conference room, laboratory spaces, work areas for graduate students, staff offices, and locker rooms. The dairy plans to offer public tours for observing its operations. Some parts of the old facility, such as the feed storage area, the digester, and one of the cow barns, will continue to be utilized.

“This cutting-edge facility isn’t just modern,” Dr. Conner said. “It’s a testament to how we can commit to aligning our teaching programs and our research programs with the industries that we are seeking to serve.”

The University hopes to attract the attention of students with an interest in dairy to the brand new facilities and expansive learning center. “Having a nice, safe facility for students to work in will hopefully draw talented people who have an interest in dairy,” Dr. Bradford said. “This will have a direct impact on Michigan’s dairy industry as most producers recognize that if we’re only hiring people that grew up on dairy farms, we will be short of employees. We have to find ways to make this an attractive career path for people that are not from farms.”

Not only will the new dairy impact the industry by recruiting more talent into the field, but it will also be a facility unlike anything in the country. “I like to focus on holistic sustainability. People hear sustainability and, instantly think of environmental impacts, and that’s a part of it. But with this new facility, we can build a strong program around finding the best ways to minimize environmental footprint of dairy production while doing it in a profitable manner, and in a way that lets us get along with our neighbors. The design of our new research facility allows us to do all of that, making it one of the few places in the world that will have it all together in one place,” explains Dr. Bradford.

This project wouldn’t have happened without the support of many partners. MMPA played a role in supporting the building of the new dairy. Dr. Bradford shared, “The reason the Michigan legislature supported this is because MMPA and over 50 other agriculture organizations collectively got behind the need for a new dairy.”

With support from partners like MMPA, MSU is able to continue to share their vision for excellence in sustainability and the circular agricultural economy.

“This new dairy facility will stand as a testament to the power of partnerships,” said Kelly Millenbah, dean of the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources. “These spaces for research, education and outreach will serve Michigan’s farmers and develop tomorrow’s workforce, and we’re so grateful for this investment in the future of agriculture at Michigan State.”

This article was originally published in the May/June 2024 issue of the Milk MessengerSubscribe »

MMPA members recently elected Paul Keener to serve a three-year term on the MMPA board of directors as a District 1 Director. Keener joins the 12 other dairy farmers on the MMPA board of directors, helping guide the direction of the cooperative and setting strategic goals.

Rosedale Farms LLC, established in 2012 in Ashland, Ohio, has been operational for over a decade. Paul, together with his wife Shyann and their three children, manage 607 acres of farmland and 650 milking cows on their dairy. He became an active member in MMPA when Superior Dairy was acquired in 2021 and is looking forward to providing his insights on the board of directors.

How has MMPA impacted your farm?

MMPA impacts my farm with the quality bonus that they offer. It gives me an incentive to work hard to achieve better milk quality. Although we still have room for improvement, it has changed what we’ve been focusing on to achieve quality milk. After visiting the Superior Dairy plant as part of MMPA’s CORE program, I’ve seen first-hand how our quality milk gets processed and its significance. It brought home the fact that we need to do our part on the farm to produce quality milk.

What do you value most about MMPA?

It’s a farmer owned co-op that provides a secure, competitive marketplace.

Why did you want to join the board of directors?

It’s an honor to be on the board. I want to be on the board of directors to help continue the growth of MMPA. It’s an exciting co-op and is going to continue to grow and evolve. I will do my best to be a voice for the members while on the board.

What are your goals and vision while serving on the board of directors?

To continue to be a strong co-op for the members, as well as continually growing and improving in a responsible manner to best serve its members.

What would you tell members looking to become more active within the cooperative?

It’s your co-op, be active and let your voice be heard. Decisions will be made whether or not you participate, so it’s important to remain actively involved.

This article was originally published in the May/June 2024 issue of the Milk MessengerSubscribe »

MMPA is committed to cooperative social responsibility and sustainable business practices throughout our entire supply chain. At the farm level, MMPA members are also on a sustainability journey. We’re checking in with a handful of member farmers leading the charge with this sustainability spotlight series. 


Pictured back to front, left to right: Mike Martin, Ben Martin, James Martin and Kyla Martin

It is all about the health of the soil for dairyman Mike Martin, who grazes 400 New Zealand Fresian Jersey crossbred cows on 170 acres of pasture in Wakarusa, Indiana. “To me sustainability and the health of the soil are very similar, from what I’ve learned is that having something green and growing on the soil is very healthy for its biology.”

Wakiana Dairy, a combination of Wakarusa and Indiana, began in 1984 when Mike and his wife Sue moved to the farm and started with 24 milking cows. Over time the couple expanded the operation and passed on their passion for farming to their son Ben, who works full-time on the farm.

Their mission is to, “Run a business that honors God by operating with integrity and honesty, producing healthy food for people, and using farming practices that are sustainable from generation to generation.”

For the Martins, the soil, cattle, and financial advantages are the primary components of their system, each complementing the others to facilitate the seamless functioning of the operation. “The soil thrives when it’s covered in grass and is grazed. Being out in the grass and grazing is healthier for the cattle. The grass is our cheapest and highest quality forage, therefore helps cut our cost of production.”

Their system begins with the soil. “We follow the growth of the grass. The growth of the grass is measured using a rising plate meter every 7-10 days, and the information from the meter is plugged into a spread sheet, from the University of Missouri, to track the growth rate of the pastures.” Cows are rotated to a new pasture twice a day, and fed baleage and a grain mix at the bunk as needed.

If pastures need to be seeded, a no till drill is used to sow a pasture seed mix. Mike explains, “I opt for Italian ryegrass as its very fast establishing, perennial rye grass for its high energy content, and clover because it grows well in the summer. Thanks to our high stocking rate, we only purchase a small amount of nitrogen fertilizer for the pasture.”

The Martins are also focusing on soil health by recently integrating an irrigation system. “In 2012, after a drought, we put in center pivots. In the summer when the pastures are dry, we give it water, and grass loves water.” Ben explains, “If you over apply then the ground gets too soft then the cows tear it up. We’re motivated to keep plenty of water for the grass to grow but not so much that it makes a mess, and costs more to run.” Plans are in the works to install water sensors that will provide feedback on moisture levels in the soil, allowing for more precision when making irrigation decisions.

They’re not just efficiently utilizing water; they’re also ensuring it remains within the soil, rather than flowing through the tile system. “It has taken us five years to gain 1% of organic matter in the soil and we are up to 5% organic matter today. When you have high organic matter soils you’re holding a lot more water in your soil, and that’s also holding your nutrients instead of washing them out,” Mike said. The Martins estimate that they have essentially zero erosion due to their diligence towards soil health. “It is amazing what grass can do.”

Mike is pleased with not only the quality of his soil but also in the welfare of his cows. “I am impressed with how long cows on grass can remain productive. Currently, we have 90 out of 400 cows over eight years of age. The cows last a long time and their milk and meat have a better nutrient profile, and so it is healthier for people to consume when the cattle are grazing.  There is a better ratio of omega 3 to omega 6 fatty acids.”

To maintain economic stability in a volatile market, the Martins focus on keeping costs low. “We cannot control the price of milk, but we can focus on keeping costs low enough. That’s why there are no big barns here. We utilize the acreage we have to feed and house our animals.”

Mike’s advice to other producers is to, “Learn to think differently and beyond yourself. Sustainability is not just doing the same thing again and again; we must consider what is best for the future of the land. That’s what motivates me. I’m not going to be here forever, but I can do my part for as long as I am here to help things be sustainable.”

KEYWORD

No Till Drill: Farmers use a no-till drill to plant in fields that they don’t till. The special no-till drill creates a channel that is just spacious enough for seeds to be planted, minimizing soil disturbance. No-till practices can minimize wind and water erosion and protect soil from high temperatures and moisture loss. In addition, organic matter from previous crops enriches the untilled soil.

Rising Plate Meter: A rising plate meter is a measurement tool to estimate the approximate forage available in a pasture. It’s more accurate than just measuring pasture height, because it takes into account the density of the pasture.

Center pivot irrigation: A self-propelled irrigation system in which a single pipeline supported on towers rotates around a central point. These systems are typically about one quarter mile long and serve 128-to 132-acre circular fields.

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Agriculture

FARM

Wakiana Dairy
Wakarusa, Indiana

HERD

400 milking cows

LAND

227 acres of pasture and 145 acres of hay

VERIFICATIONS

MMPA sustainability survey, FARM* Animal Care and FARM* Environmental Stewardship evaluations.

This article was originally published in the May/June 2024 issue of the Milk MessengerSubscribe »

By Doug Chapin, MMPA Board Chairman

Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) was found in dairy herds in Texas in March, since then the situation has continued to evolve and reach other parts of the country. While we continue to learn more about the virus every day, our industry is collaborating to navigate the changing situation.

We know that HPAI is affecting not only dairy cattle but is harmful to the poultry industry. We need to do our part to prevent the spread of HPAI to not only be a good neighbor, but to assure our consumers of a safe, healthy food supply. We have to let our neighbors and consumers know that we are all hands-on-deck and doing everything we can to prevent HPAI and keep our food supply safe. Biosecurity is really the only tool we have without a vaccine and treatments to protect the dairy and poultry industries.

The focus of biosecurity is greater than us because the virus is more than our own farms, more than our own cooperative and more than our own industry. HPAI requires a collaborative effort between everyone to really think about how people, animals and equipment are moving on our farms and looking for ways to reduce risk in those areas.

On my own farm, we’ve put signs up to help direct traffic in ways that lessen our risk. We have separate farm entrances for employees, visitors and delivery trucks, and we’ve talked to our vendors to make sure they know about our updated traffic patterns. I’ve installed boot washes at all door entrances in the barn and only allow essential people into our cow facilities. We’ve targeted personnel that travel from farm to farm because that elevates the risk level. We work with our hoof trimmers, DHIA technicians, equipment maintenance personnel and others who visit multiple farms to ensure their clothes are clean, they’re either walking through the boot bath or wearing clean disposable booties, and we make sure they sign our visitor entry sign-in to have on record. Will these measures prove effective? I don’t know, but I hope so. All we can do right now is put biosecurity measures in place and think critically about risk areas on our operations.

Fortunately, as an industry we have resources to turn to that I helped develop as part of the National Dairy Farmers Assuring Responsible Management (FARM) program biosecurity taskforce. When we discussed biosecurity at the time of launching Everyday Biosecurity and Enhanced Biosecurity manuals, we were preparing for a Foot and Mouth Disease outbreak, fortunately, a lot of those same biosecurity practices apply today with HPAI. When developing the resources, we worked collaboratively with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and other agencies to create the most effective course of action that would allow our dairy farms a continuity of business. I encourage producers to check out the FARM program’s biosecurity resources and contact your field staff with help writing a biosecurity plan for your operation. It’s going to take all of us doing our part to prevent the spread of HPAI.

This article was originally published in the May/June 2024 issue of the Milk MessengerSubscribe »

Adapted from the National Milk Producers Federation

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has confirmed Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza cases in several dairy herds throughout the U.S. While it is uncommon for HPAI to affect dairy cows, USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service has been tracking detections of HPAI in mammals for many years, leading dairy farmers and veterinarians to prepare for this eventuality. Implementing biosecurity measures is essential to safeguarding dairy farms from the threat of HPAI. Below are ten biosecurity tips for dairy farms, emphasizing the importance of protecting cattle and their environment from potential sources of HPAI infection.

1. LIMIT MOVEMENTS OF CATTLE

Movement of animals on and off the dairy can introduce disease to the home herd unless prevention steps are put in place. Take premovement testing of milk samples from lactating cows and nasal swabs for non-lactating cattle by PCR for Influenza A and H5 virus and submit to a National Animal Health Laboratory Network laboratory. USDA is reimbursing all premovement HPAI tests. When moving cattle, keep record of movement using an animal movement log.

2. QUARANTINE NEW ANIMALS

Separate all new or returning animals for a minimum of 21 days. Whenever possible, quarantined animals should not share confined air space, panels/fence lines, feeding or watering space with other animals on the farm. Dedicate caretakers and equipment to these animals or work with them last, followed by cleaning of equipment, boots, clothing, etc.

3. MINIMIZE ACCESS OF WILD BIRDS AND OTHER ANIMALS TO CATTLE AND THEIR ENVIRONMENT

Disrupt habitats like shelter, food and water sources that may attract birds and small mammals.

4. DELAY OR STOP NON-ESSENTIAL VISITORS

Limit cattle contact to individuals who are essential for a dairy’s health and continued operation. Require or provide clean clothing and footwear to anyone entering the farm. Do not allow drivers (milk haulers, etc.) access to animal housing, animals or milk products to be fed to calves. Keep track of farm visitors by using a visitor log.

5. LIMIT VEHICLES AND EQUIPMENT

Limit the movement of vehicles on and off the premises and establish dedicated routes for vehicles that do come onto the farm. Implement and communicate designated hauling routes on-farm for milk, feed, rendering and delivery trucks. Use biosecurity signs to regulate traffic on and off your farm and use a vehicle/equipment entry and delivery log to keep track of vehicles entering and exiting your farm premise. Use trailers to transport only your own livestock and clean using an EPA-registered disinfectant effective against HPAI to disinfect trailer interiors that were used to haul cattle.

6. CLEAN AND DISINFECT EQUIPMENT

Use EPA-registered disinfectants on contact surfaces (footwear, tires, etc.) before entry in and out of milking areas and other cattle areas. Require disinfection of handling, treatment, milk sampling/testing, breeding and hoof trimming equipment, with particular attention to proper disinfection of milking equipment.

Dairy workers should limit contact with other livestock and poultry premises, including livestock and poultry the worker may own. Provide hand-washing stations and disposable gloves, and encourage their use.

7. FOLLOW GOOD MILKING PRACTICES

Follow good milking practices, with special attention to mammary health. Sanitize milking equipment after use with quarantined animals and after sick cattle.

8. ISOLATE SICK ANIMALS

Move animals with clinical signs to a dedicated hospital or sick pen. Whenever possible, this area should not share confined air space, panels/fence lines, feeding or watering space with other animals. Dedicate caretakers and equipment to sick animals or work with them last, followed by cleaning of equipment, boots, clothing, etc.

9. AVOID FEEDING RAW MILK TO CALVES AND OTHER FARM ANIMALS

Feed only heat-treated colostrum and pasteurized milk and milk products to calves and other farm animals, including cats and other mammals.

10. PROTECT WATER RESOURCES

Never use untreated surface water as a source for drinking, to wet down barn or paddock areas animals frequent, in barn misters or to clean equipment that contacts dairy cattle. Fence off ponds and non-draining areas. Consult a wildlife or wetlands professional about managing ponds and drainage areas on farm.

This article was originally published in the May/June 2024 issue of the Milk MessengerSubscribe »

MMPA members and guests gather to celebrate association’s success

The world is changing at a rapid pace. Today’s consumers are evolving and MMPA isn’t stepping back to witness change but is orchestrating it. It takes change to survive in our industry. And we’re proud to say we’re a different cooperative today than we were yesterday, and even prouder to say we’ll be different tomorrow than we are today. MMPA members and guests gathered in Novi, Mich. for the 108th Annual Meeting on March 20 to learn how we’re evolving, and to celebrate our partners and members who have made this success possible.

During the meeting, attendees learned more about our investment in GoodSport, a brand disrupting the sports drink aisle as we know today; how we are breaking ground on one of the most sustainable ethanol facilities in the world this year as part of our partnership with Dairy Distillery; and witnessed the announcement of a new alliance with Amul, a brand owned by the largest dairy cooperative in the world. And MMPA is doing all of this while remaining committed to producing some of the highest quality milk in the nation.

Award-Winning Members

During the Annual Meeting, MMPA Outstanding Young Dairy Cooperator finalists, members reaching 35 and 50 years of membership, MMPA Dairy Communicator Service Award recipients, and the MMPA Top Quality Award winner were recognized.

Outstanding Young Dairy Cooperators

2023 Outstanding Young Dairy Cooperator
Ryan Benthem of McBain, Michigan

2023 Outstanding Young Dairy Cooperator Runners-Up
BJ & Autumn Benkovsky of Eaton Rapids, Michigan

2023 Outstanding Young Dairy Cooperator Finalists
Bryan & Molly Benson of Cadillac, Michigan
Steven & Whitney Wamhoff of Hopkins, Michigan

Milestone Members

35- Year Members
Roger Weiss of Frankenmuth, Michigan
Marvin J Rubingh of Ellsworth, Michigan
Terry K Lautner of Traverse City, Michigan
David Schultz of Sandusky, Michigan
Glen Sparks of Fremont, Michigan
Rodney Hisler of Charlotte Michigan

50-Year Member
William G Cumper of Marlette, Michigan

Dairy Communicator Service Award Recipients

30-Year Dairy Communicator
Jane Wood of Kingston, Michigan

10-Year Dairy Communicator
Jordan Noll of Croswell, Michigan

5-Year Dairy Communicator
Tammy Spicher of Paw Paw, Michigan

MMPA Top Quality Award Winner

De Grins Oer Dairy of Blanchard, Michigan

 

 

MMPA Annual Report: 2023 in Review

  • Members Adopt New Governance Structure
    In March of 2023, MMPA delegates unanimously approved a proposal to modernize MMPA’s governance structure. Originally put forward by the MMPA Membership Structure Task Force, the proposal gives every member farm one vote and shifts the cooperative’s grassroots efforts from a local to a district structure.
  • 96-ounce Bottle Innovation Launches
    MMPA launched a 96-ounce bottle made from Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET) in 2023. The groundbreaking, patent-pending innovation is from Creative Edge, MMPA’s team of creative thinkers focused on pushing the needle and keeping dairy relevant to today’s consumers.
  • MMPA Donates 1 Million Gallons of Milk in 2023
    MMPA is committed to supporting the communities we live and work in, especially in the face of a crisis. As part of the effort, MMPA donated 9,400 gallons of milk from the Superior Dairy plant in Canton, Ohio to residents of East Palestine, Ohio when a train derailment contaminated local drinking water. During periods of water contamination, milk is a safe source of nourishment.
  • MMPA’s Constantine Plant Receives Employee Safety Award
    MMPA’s plant in Constantine, Mich. received an International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA) safety award for outstanding worker safety. The annual Dairy Industry Safety Recognition Awards program, co-sponsored by IDFA and Dairy Foods magazine, honors U.S. dairy facilities and trucking operations for outstanding worker safety. Superior Dairy Acquisition Provides Greater Innovation
  • MMPA Launches Milk Moovement
    In 2023, MMPA announced a partnership with Milk Moovement, a dairy supply chain software provider, to digitize and optimize our supply chain. Milk Moovement digitizes the entire supply chain to optimize production from the farm to the processing facilities. The cloud-based platform tracks all milk shipments and delivers real-time quality and quantity information to all dairy stakeholders, allowing better decisions to be made faster.

 

This article was originally published in the March/April 2024 issue of the Milk MessengerSubscribe »

By Joe Diglio, MMPA President & CEO

Early this year, I had the opportunity to participate in a panel discussion during the International Dairy Food Association’s Dairy Forum. During the panel, we discussed evolving consumer behavior and the pressing need for businesses to be responsive. Drawing insights from a McKinsey study on consumer trends, we talked about the intricacies and challenges that companies encounter in meeting ever-changing consumer demands.

On the panel, I had the privilege and honor to represent MMPA and shed light on our own journey from a business-to-business model to a cooperative with a growing consumer-centric approach. This transition was accelerated with the strategic acquisition of Superior Dairy, a move that underscored our commitment to understanding and meeting the evolving needs of consumers. Our approach has been gradual yet deliberate, aligning our strategies with the dynamic shifts in consumer preferences.

During the panel, we talked about how our society continues to see significant shifts, with consumers increasingly expressing interest in understanding the origins of the products they consume. This trend has been further accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has highlighted the importance of transparent communication and consumer education.

While we continue navigating today’s consumer landscape and the volatile nature of the dairy market, we continue to be committed to fostering innovation and enhancing technology, in a way that’s sustainable on member farms, in our plants and in our communities.

Our investments in ventures such as GoodSport, the pioneering dairy-based sports drink; Dairy Distillery, a ground-breaking alliance that will build the world’s lowest-carbon ethanol plant at our Constantine, Mich. facility; and our new partnership with Amul, using MMPA member milk to bring the well-known international brand’s fluid milk to U.S. markets for the first time, all exemplify our proactive approach to diversifying our portfolio, driving sustainable growth and staying ahead of evolving consumer preferences.

During our Annual Meeting held in March we heard from our partners at Good Sport, Dairy Distillery and Amul. The meeting provided a great example of our company’s resilience and adaptability in the face of dynamic market forces and shifting consumer behavior. Through strategic investments and partnerships, and a relentless focus on meeting consumer needs, we are ready to thrive in an ever-evolving marketplace.

This optimism for the future wouldn’t be possible without the team who works on our members’ behalf. When we consider all the awards our members received recognition for during the Annual Meeting and the quality milk they produce on the farm becoming a wholesome, nutritious dairy product, it’s a testament to the whole system working. We’re primed and ready for the next challenge and opportunity, because as a team, alongside our members, we’ve proven that we can evolve.

This article was originally published in the March/April 2024 issue of the Milk MessengerSubscribe »

De Grins Oer Dairys’ commitment to family and dedication to quality milk earned them the MMPA Top Quality Award in 2023.

Family. It is everything to Tjerk Okkema. In 1999, fueled by a dream to establish a dairy farm according to his vision, he relocated his wife, Ramona Okkema-Clark, and three children-Evelyn Okkema-Damveld, Cora Okkema and Dirk-Thomas Okkema-from The Netherlands to America. Together they have built a healthy herd in Blanchard, Mich., with milk quality that sets them apart from Michigan Milk Producers Association’s membership, earning them the cooperative’s coveted title of Top Quality Award Winner in 2023.

“We don’t have a somatic cell count goal. Our goal is to have healthy animals that produce high quality milk,” said Tjerk. “Consistency is key. Do the same thing every day.”

The Okkema family places great value in the health of their cows and quality of milk. It is their consistently low average somatic cell count, a common milk quality indicator, of 49,000 proves they’re doing something right.

Family First

Everyone in the Okkemas immediate family is involved on the farm in some form, helping De Grins Oer Dairy succeed.

“The youngest daughter, Evelyn, is completely involved 100% as the herdsperson. Cora, our middle one, is somewhat involved, working mainly with Michigan State University’s Dairy Extension Team. And Dirk, the oldest, is a realtor, but he wants to keep his roots in dairy as he is in charge of the farm’s social media and promotion, and helps out around the dairy when needed,” said Ramona.

Ramona, former calf feeder and cow handler, now works mostly in the office handling bookkeeping, paperwork, phone calls, etc. As the owner, Tjerk oversees big picture things but doesn’t shy away from getting his hands dirty. “I enjoy working with the cows the most. I like everything except feeding calves. The summer and fall time are especially my favorite, I enjoy being outside.”

Aaron Damveld, Agricultural Equipment Foreman, is a jack of all trades, ranging from mechanics and fieldwork to tending to the heifers, he enjoys working with all aspects of the dairy. “I can do almost everything on the farm. I learned a lot from working for my grandfather and uncle growing up.”

The Okkema’s contribute their success to the strength of their family unit and their faith in God.

Ramona states, “Working with family, I mean that’s all I’ve ever done. Your family has your back. No matter how the day ends, you know your family has your back. We all have a silent understanding of what everybody’s going through as far as when it comes to the farm scene.”

The Beginning

Groot Deersum 2, Achlum, The Netherlands. Built in 1658, this was Tjerk’s farm home. He grew up here and it is where Tjerk and Ramona first met and started their family after they married in 1991.

Tjerk and Ramona’s story begins in 1982 when she traveled from America to the Netherlands through a 4-H program. There she met Tjerk who was working with his father on their dairy farm. They married 9 ½

years later, Ramona moved to Achlum, and they grew their family. During their time in the small village in the Netherlands, Tjerk took over operations of the family farm milking almost 50 cows. Not long after

Tjerk came to Ramona with a proposal.

Ramona states, “[Tjerk] came to me and said, ‘What would you think, because of the milk quota here, of moving to America? Fast forward, we went through the immigration process and moved here June 1, 1999. He’s been making improvements and transforming this dairy ever since.”

Tjerk was quick to add, “Well, we showed up June 1st, but I had to do a lot of cleaning before we started milking in August. I started by buying a load of seven milkers and the others were springers that came from Canada. The first load of milk for shipment had a 350,000 somatic cell count as the agitator couldn’t even reach the milk tank.”

They have come a long way since then. Now milking 700 cows, three times a day, in a 40-stall rotary and producing the highest quality of milk.

Today’s Practices

The dairy’s mission reads, “By exemplifying high standards through animal care and progressive practices, we commit ourselves daily to creating quality milk for everyone near and far.”  Not only have the Okkema’s stayed true to their mission but they have had success in knowing that they could not have gotten to where they are alone. Before their expansion of the newest barn and rotary in 2017 the family prayed to God over the land. Their accomplishments have been attributed to the profound influence of their faith, with the belief in God playing a pivotal role in their journey to success.

Industry professionals and technology are resources that the family has taken advantage of to be as efficient as possible.

Fleckvieh cows make up 1% of the Okkemas herd. They are a dual-purpose breed incorporated for their reduced mastitis and somatic cell counts, increased protein content in milk, and increased longevity and overall health. Pictured is Honey, or 5409, the first calf born on the dairy and is now 6 years old and going strong.

“Every couple of months we have a management meeting and I work personally with a lot of the companies that we hire to help us on the farm such as our vet office, nutritionist, etc.,” Evelyn shared. “The company our nutritionist is with has a calf specialist, so we work closely with them as well.”

The implementation of ear tag monitors five years ago has aided in monitoring herd health and becoming more precise with breeding protocols.

“It tracks the cow’s eating habits, by monitoring how often they’re flipping their ears. If a cow feels sick her ears will droop and may be an indicator that she has mastitis. The tags catch illness a lot faster than somebody just quickly walking through the barn who may overlook her. The sooner we are aware she is ill the quicker we can treat her and have her healthy again”, states Evelyn.

Another technology that has improved milk quality but also solved a labor issue, is the use of a post dip robot arm for the rotary. “The robot has a camera on it so that it can find the teats and it is 99% accurate. We have been able to take two people from the parlor and reduce our somatic cell count,” Tjerk said.

The Okkemas take pride in their cleanliness on the farm. They bed the stalls with clean sand every week and scrape the stalls three times a day.

As members of MMPA for 25 years, they’ve utilized member services such as milker trainings and educating employees through the Dairy Care Academy Program. “I utilize the Dairy Care Academy courses for the calf feeders and MMPA’s Spanish milker trainings for the people in the parlor,” states Evelyn.

“The key to improving milk quality is in the details,” Tjerk said. “The little things and the consistency. If you’re doing it right, you’re doing it right. Our goal is not to have the lowest somatic cell count, but to produce high quality milk.”

This article was originally published in the March/April 2024 issue of the Milk MessengerSubscribe »

Steve and Whitney Wamhoff

Hometown: Hopkins, Michigan
District: 2

Steve and Whitney Wamhoff are all about diversification on Wamhoff Family Dairy Farm LLC. The couple recognizes the advantages of multiple revenue streams and knows what it takes to make it happen. They raise quality heifers and steers for sale and have pushed to grow more cash crops. These two can’t do it alone though, Steve’s father and brother help operate the dairy and they are raising three kids, Jameson, Makenzie, and Haley.

Q&A:

Q: What’s your farms greatest achievement?
To be able to continue as a family run and worked farm for 6 generations now.

Q: Is what you’re doing now what you dreamed of doing as a kid?
I always thought I’d be tied to the farm somehow when I was growing up.

Q: What do you love about being a farmer?
Working for myself, knowing that I’m building my own future, not someone else’s.

Q: What’s the key to running a dairy farm?
Hard work and communication.

Q: What’s your favorite chore? Why?
Breeding cows because it helps push the farms genetics and bottom line forward.

Q: Ultimate cow? Sired by who? Average production?
1004, Sired by Billy (one of our own bulls raised bulls), 92lb average over days milked.

Q: Why do you milk cows?
I grew up in a barn helping milk cows and feeding calves. After finishing my degree, I couldn’t stand the idea of being behind a desk or in an office for 40+ hours a week. An opportunity arose on the farm, and I jumped into it with both feet.

Q: Describe your farm management style in three words.
Full Family Effort.

Q: What’s one practice you’d try on your farm if you knew it was impossible to fail?
Putting cover crops on all field while grazing cattle on the cover crops.

Q: What does your farm look like in 30 years?
Hopefully full of healthy cows, luscious soil, and a beautiful great family.

On their farm:

On their dairy in Hopkins, Michigan you’ll find Holstein cows being milked in a double eight parallel parlor. With monitoring systems on the cows and the Delpro parlor system they use technology to gather information and make decisions on an individual cow and whole herd basis. The Wamhoff’s continually strive to grow and be better every day. They move to grow as a family and farm to ensure that they have a chance to do it again and again.

This article was originally published in the March/April 2024 issue of the Milk MessengerSubscribe »

Bryan and Molly Benson

Hometown: Cadillac, Michigan
District: 3

Sustainability is the name of the game for Bryan and Molly Benson. These fifth-generation farmers have their family front of mind as Bryan’s father continues to work on the farm, and they have three children as the upcoming generation: Fenton, Hartley, Josette, and Alicia. At Benson Dairy LLC, their six Lely robots, LED light installation and thermostat run fans are all practices that are helping keep their farm efficient and sustainable for future generations.

Q&A:

Q: What’s your farms greatest achievement?
Being here for 152 years, we’re the 5th generation.

Q: What do you love about being a farmer?
Creating a sustainable business for generations to come!

Q: What’s the key to running a dairy farm?
Hard work, always willing to adjust the ways we think and work!

Q: What’s your favorite chore? Why?
Anything field work. I love putting up high quality feed for our cows. And just being good stewards of the land God has blessed us with!

Q: How can someone easily improve their milk quality?
Cleanliness and consistency

Q: Why do you milk cows?
To produce the highest quality milk for consumers!

Q: Describe your farm management style in three words.
Visionary. Participative. Goal-setting.

Q: What’s one practice you’d try on your farm if you knew it was impossible to fail?
Processing our own milk.

Q: What does your farm look like in 30 years?
Hopefully still here and the 6th generation chasing their dreams!

On their farm:

If you visit their farm in Cadillac, Michigan you may run into one of the many tour groups that Molly helps organize. Working with Congressmen and the Traverse City Home School Group, the dairy opens their doors to share dairy knowledge with the public. The couple is very active in their community as well, delivering bags of food to students in need through the Cadillac Area Backpack Association as well as being active members of the Living Light Church.

This article was originally published in the January/February 2024 issue of the Milk MessengerSubscribe »

Start your new year off right by making sure your employees are up to date on all things animal care.

Dairy Care Academy is a free MMPA animal care training program for farm owners and employees. Designed to help farms meet Farmers Assuring Responsible Management (FARM) program training requirements, it also educates employees and improves performance.

MMPA members have access to an on-demand, FARM program compliant online training platform. The resource covers Milking Practices, Calf Management and Dairy Stockmanship along with the latest FARM program required training areas of Euthanasia, Non-Ambulatory Animal Management and Fitness to Transport. Recently added, the Milking Practices course is also available in Spanish.

The six different topics are complete courses with videos and resources compiled by the MMPA Dairy Care Academy team from reputable sources, making it easy for members and farm employees to complete the course relevant to their role on the farm, take a quiz covering what they have learned and receive a printable certificate if they score 80 percent or better on the quiz.

This training resource is available year-round for unlimited use. To access the online platform, MMPA members can visit the member portal and select the Dairy Care Academy link on the homepage or ask your member representative for details.

Successful dairy operations rely on quality employee training because training keeps all animal caretakers on task and performing best practices. Therefore, Dairy Care Academy teaches farm employees how to provide excellent care to animals. Farms that benefit the most from training are those that commit to incorporating best procedures taught to employees on their farm. Setting expectations and evaluating adherence to procedures long-term are surefire ways to build a successful farm team.

MMPA farms interested in on-farm training, contact your member representative to schedule classroom-style or other training opportunities.

Online Dairy Care Academy Courses:

  • Milking Practices (available in English and Spanish) – learn best milking practices and key ways to improve milk quality and udder health.

 

  • Dairy Stockmanship – learn how to work with a cow’s pressure zone, how the environment has an impact on cattle movement and why good stockmanship increases milk production, improves herd health, and reduces animal and handler injuries.

 

  • Calf Care – understand why calf housing should be clean, dry, draft free and ventilated, why the quality of colostrum is impacted by equipment cleanliness and milk storage, and how to properly sanitize calf equipment.

 

  • Fitness to Transport – study the importance of animal comfort and safety when handling, moving and transporting dairy animals.

 

  • Non-Ambulatory Animal Management – learn proper care of down animals, acceptable methods of non-ambulatory cow movement and employee safety while moving non-ambulatory animals.

 

  • Euthanasia – understand acceptable methods of euthanasia, correct anatomical sites for euthanasia and indicators of unconsciousness in dairy cattle.

This article was originally published in the January/February 2024 issue of the Milk MessengerSubscribe »

By Doug Chapin, MMPA Board Chairman

MMPA member involvement is key to our success and sets us apart from other cooperatives. Our members’ involvement strengthens our association, and it has helped us succeed through volatile dairy markets. While it’s critical that members participate in elections and cooperative business, it’s equally important that our cooperative remains successful in the future. To do that, we must attract the right leadership talent which only comes from having informed and involved member owners.

During our Annual Meeting last March, the membership recognized how our association has changed through the years and unanimously approved a member-driven proposal to update our governance structure. We’ve seen our industry change and farms consolidate, and it’s no surprise that what may have worked a century ago was no longer working in today’s environment. The proposed changes led us to change from a delegate system to giving every farm one vote, and we redistricted to better align ourselves with the number of members we have today.

As a result of the changes, we held virtual membership briefings over the summer to provide an update to membership on our cooperative business. The management team at MMPA shared industry happenings and gave insight into MMPA’s market strategy.

In December, we held District Meetings for the first time where all members were invited to attend and conduct cooperative business. The meetings were a good chance for members to interact and learn about the cooperative, while meeting with staff. The attendance was encouraging, and I appreciated the questions that members asked. Overall, the district meetings allowed every member to participate in the governance of the cooperative, a critical component of a successful cooperative.

The changes to our governance structure also allowed us to evaluate our member committees and how we share information with our membership. It’s led to the development of a legislative group for members interested in legislative affairs. It’s also created CORE, an opportunity for members to get involved and learn more about MMPA. While CORE is just getting off the ground, we’re excited to officially share dates with our members and invite them to participate.

The first CORE program will be MMPA 101, which will be a good chance for members to understand their milk check and the tools MMPA has from the lab work to field staff involvement. MMPA 101 will also include a tour of our laboratory in Novi and will fill in a lot of blanks for those who haven’t been as involved before. Following MMPA 101, members will have the opportunity to participate in a Sustainability Summit to recognize what we’re already doing on the sustainability front and what areas we are working to improve in the future. We’re also excited to bring members to our Canton, Ohio plant as part of the CORE program in April. As a key part of our association’s initiatives, the acquisition of that plant was a significant investment and I encourage all members to learn how your money is being spent.

These opportunities are great to learn the key parts of our association’s initiatives and understand how members’ investments in the cooperative is working for them. As owners of the cooperative, our members have a significant investment in our business, and I encourage everyone to participate in the co-op and learn what that investment is doing for their operation.

This article was originally published in the January/February 2024 issue of the Milk MessengerSubscribe »