Drew and Beth Rupprecht, the 2020 Outstanding Young Dairy Cooperator Runners Up, took a leap of faith. Four years ago, they turned their part-time dairy show gig into a full-fledged milking operation with a focus on quality dairy genetics.
“In 2016, we would send cows to six or eight different farms to be milked and when they dried off, we would bring them back here and graze the heifers,” Beth said. “It got to the point where we had to ask ourselves, ‘Are we all in or are we all out? Are we going to milk cows or not?’ Needless to say, we took the leap.”
They renewed their ancestor’s farming legacy by keeping the name King Street Dairy for their registered Holsteins, named after King Street Stock Farm, the original name of the family’s farm in England, and started laying their own foundation with their farm Thistle Dew Dairy for their registered Jerseys and Milking Shorthorns.
The Rupprechts have continued to keep an eye on the future, setting guiding goals that have lead them to success, while reminding themselves of the foundation their family established before them, with an original sale advertisement of Drew’s family’s farm in England hanging in their home’s hallway.
The Rupprechts are fortunate to have Drew’s family’s background in dairy. When they were starting out, they relied heavily on Drew’s dad, who knew cows and the equipment that remained in the barn from when his parents sold in 2004.
“We take advantage of opportunities where we can work with others in the neighborhood and help each other out,” Beth said.
Their strong focus on community comes from growing up in a small town and is propelled by the community they live in and the people Beth services as a Michigan Farm Bureau Regional Manager. In the role, she meets members where they are and brings back the information to the home office, acting as a liaison.
Drew served in a similar capacity at MMPA, working as an MMPA Field Representative after graduating from MSU with an agribusiness major. Going from servicing farms as a field representative to showing up at the Frankenmuth Local meeting as a fellow cooperator was awkward initially. Ultimately though, they united over the same passion for the industry, even if slightly different with Drew’s intense focus on genetics.
“I like looking out my window and just looking at them,” Drew said as he pointed at a pasture full of cows. “I like trying to make better ones. I like showing. I like getting out and being with other people at shows that like doing the same thing.”
The Rupprecht’s initial herd of show cattle was small since they relied on other farms to milk for them, so when they started their own milking operation they expanded their herd to the 55 it is today.
“There are cows out there that are high excellent cows now that started with nothing behind them,” Drew said. “The farms they came from might have registered them, but they were never on tests,
never scored, never shown, never nothing.”
Taking nothing and making into something is exciting for the Rupprechts and, as of last year, their Holstein herd was ranked thirteenth in the Midwest region based on Breed Association Averages (BAA) with Holstein U.S.A. Calculated based on a formula from average scores per age group from across the nation, the Rupprecht’s BAA of 111 is an impressive feat.
“We have cow family’s with a history of 11 generations of excellence and breeding another generation of excellence was fun, but it is cool to be starting our own foundation and our own excellent line,” Beth said.
Cool, for sure, but they have even higher goals of achieving top 10 BAA in the United States by 2025 with 75 percent of their herd being bred and owned by them along with breeding an All-American animal by 2025.
Drew and Beth started out milking in the stanchion barn that was left behind on the Rupprecht’s original homestead in Vassar, Michigan. While it was working, it wasn’t what Drew and Beth had in mind for their lifestyle, so they installed a Lely A3 robotic milker in December 2019 for added flexibility.
“Installing the robot met my objective of just wanting to pick my kids up from daycare,” Beth said. “As a mom, it was important to me to be the one to pick them up. I also wanted to have dinner on time, but that hasn’t happened yet. Let’s not jump the gun!”
Along with allowing Beth to meet her motherhood goals, Drew is happy that the robot allows them more flexibility to be off the farm. Although Beth was quick to mention, “We’ve only been gone together four nights since we started the robot.” Which Drew countered with, “That’s more than the year before!”
Regardless, there’s no question that the robot gave the Rupprechts added flexibility, but it isn’t perfect. Drew provided a realistic outlook though that “no matter what way you’re going to milk cows, there will be headaches, it’s just different headaches.”
Drew and Beth are also driven to meet their financial goals. Along with their herd’s genetic achievements, they hope to become a debt-free operation by 2030. Certainly lofty by all means, Beth is confident that “it’s going to happen” and they’re being as sustainable as possible to make sure that it does.
“We try to do small projects to maintain a debt-load that we are comfortable with,” Beth said. “I like paying people off and being done. That’s why we’ve purchased used equipment or completed projects in incremental steps.”
Along with financial sustainability, Drew and Beth are focused on treating the environment they interact with in a way that sets them up for success. Their farm is located in a high-risk watershed area that makes every action they take to protect the environment vital for the Saginaw Bay that ultimately receives any runoff from their operation.
The Rupprechts utilize cover crops for forage, minimize tilling of their fields, are MEAEP verified and are working on getting their Comprehensive Nutrient Management Plan. In the future, they want to improve their manure storage and bury a tank underground to catch any of their farm’s runoff, bettering the farm for the next generations to come.
Bettering the future is a theme for Thistle Dew Dairy and it’s rooted in Beth’s outlook on life. When asked what motivates her every day, she replied without skipping a beat, “To be better. My dreams of what this farm will be, and they keep getting bigger and bigger.”
Pair that optimistic attitude with Beth’s entrepreneurship master’s degree and you have the future of the Rupprecht’s farm. The Oklahoma State University program taught Beth business basics and allowed her to graduate with a completed business plan for their next phase.
While there’s a lot that their goals involve, Drew’s realities experienced as a field representative make him quick to slow Beth’s motion and point out the legalities that the developing dream might not include right now. Regardless of the details to be agreed on yet, the goals are shared, and Drew will be happy by just continuing as a contributing member of the industry. Afterall, “just look at them,” cows are certainly nice to look at!
The Rupprecht’s two kids, Braxton (4) and Charlotte (2), agree that cows are great and are quickly following in Drew and Beth’s footsteps. The ultimate goal for the future of the farm is to allow the seventh generation the opportunity to be a part of the operation.
“We want to create a farm that our kids can come back to. They’re going be here in 20 years, so although we are passionate about pedigreed animals and our future goals, we are trying to build a foundation that will allow our kids to come back to the farm, work with us on the farm and be able to sustain three families.”
Drew and Beth’s coordinated and strategic goal setting is allowing them to take the leap on business decisions that will lay the foundation for their family and their farm to have a successful, promising and exciting future.
This article was originally published in the November/December 2020 issue of the Milk Messenger. Subscribe »