Gross Farms on a frosty morning.

MMPA 2020 Quality Award Winners: Doing the Little Things Right

Gross family, the MMPA 2020 Quality Award Winners, posing in their parlor. Gross Farms Registered Holsteins, the 2020 MMPA Quality Award Winners, produce quality milk by doing the little things right consistently. 

In life, success often has humble beginnings. For Gross Farms Registered Holsteins, success is built on doing the little things right. As the 2020 MMPA Quality Award Winners, the farm is a testament to what patiently and consistently following through on doing the little things right can do on a farm overtime.

The farm has come full circle through trial and error and learning from others. “I remember looking at winners’ quality numbers during the Annual Meetings in years past and asking myself, ‘How do they do that?” Steve Gross said. “Then, with time, just doing stuff, it just kind of fell in place for us.”

Now, they are the ones with impressive quality, managing a herd of 135 registered Holsteins in Weidman, Michigan, with an average somatic cell count (SCC) of 57,583 per milliliter. The SCC is a key indicator of milk quality and while the family doesn’t set SCC targets, they approach milk quality with the same attitude, “keep the cows comfortable, put good feed in front of them and you will get quality milk out of them.”

The farm is family at heart with three generations working together to produce some of the highest quality milk in Michigan. Today, Steve and Phil, along with their nephews, Kevin and Joel, continue the legacy of their father and grandfather, calling on the wisdom they received in the face of challenges.

“Dad always said, ‘just know what you don’t know.’ So that’s why we have a nutritionist, we have a mechanic…” Steve said. “We have learned things over the years, so we can tweak things on our own, but I use, ‘know what you don’t know’ a lot.”

Steve and Phil have left their mark on the farm through transitioning to milking three times per day and building a new freestall barn and double-10 parallel parlor. The changes, though significant, still allow them to keep doing things the way their dad showed them and allow them to improve their milk quality along the way.

In the Barn

“We are fortunate, when we decided to put in the parlor, it’s overkill for our size, but at the time, finances were right and we said, ‘Well why not spend the least amount of time in the parlor?” Steve said. “Plus, it’s better for the cows because they spend less time in the holding area. The cows are in and out and get back to eating and laying down.”

The focus on cow comfort resonates throughout the entire farm. The family focuses on routinely providing clean bedding and consider that the key to their farm’s quality success.

“Keeping the bedding clean is the most important,” Kevin said. “Cows come into our parlor clean, so the milkers knock the sand off, prep them and they’re ready to go without spending time scrubbing manure off.”

In the parlor, Kevin trains employees following recommended best practices and reinforces the same routine for every employee. “Everybody does things the same way every time at the same speed. The same amount of dip, the same everything,” Kevin said. “The cows don’t know who’s milking them.”

Along with clean bedding and consistency in the parlor, the Gross family consistently tries to understock their barn by 10 percent. “We have 132 stalls, but we try to never milk over 130,” Steve said. “We always like to have some extra stalls so that the cows don’t have too far to walk to find somewhere to lay down.” Through trial and error, they have found that by increasing their cow’s comfort they’ve become more efficient at producing milk and their cows are healthier because of it.

“It is all the little things added up to do everything right,” Kevin said. “It’s the milk prepping, providing clean sand, it’s not one big philosophy. It’s all the little things that build up into that.”

A cow on Gross Farms Registered Holsteins, MMPA 2020 Quality Award Winners.

In the Community

The family genuinely loves cows and providing milk for their community. It’s all about the relationships they have built and giving back to the people who have helped them along the way. “We have a good relationship with our feed man, our chemical guy, our harvester, our semen people, our veterinarian, our hardware people,” Steve said. “It’s like one big family.”

The Gross family values their community and it is clear that they are valued in return. “We value the back and forth with each other, learning from each other,” Phil said.

The family’s humbleness for the success they have today is admirable. For them, their success was built on the little things they do that have been passed down from previous generations. One of the many little things that the farm does right is their care for the environment, another principal passed down from Steve and Phil’s father.

Tractor parked in front of windmill on Gross Farms Registered Holsteins, MMPA 2020 Quality Award Winners..
Gross Farms Registered Holsteins does the little things right in their fields too. Along with practicing no-till, they house seven wind turbines and soil sample regularly.

In the Fields

“We’ve been no tilling for over 30 years,” Steve said. “Matter of fact, when dad brought it up, we thought he was a little old fashioned, but dad was the first one to say that we better start no till.” Since they followed their father’s lead, the next generations are reaping the benefits. “Our fields are a night and day difference from what they used to be,” Kevin said. “You can definitely see the benefits now.”

Along with no-till, the farm also houses seven wind turbines scattered on their property, plants cover crops on their fields when the harvest season allows and regularly takes soil samples of their fields. They focus heavily on producing the best crops possible because they believe that “good feed produces good milk.”

From the field to the parlor, the Gross family wakes up and does the little things right. “I’m not proud of any one particular thing, it’s a product of since when grandpa was here, building towards what we are now,” Kevin said. Steve calls themselves “basic,” which Phil defines perfectly as, “We try to do the little things right.”

This article was originally published in the January/February 2021 issue of the Milk MessengerSubscribe »