Driven by the goal of producing high-quality milk, Brent and Emily Simon, Westphalia, Michigan dairy farmers, are focused on sustaining their family, employees and livestock for years to come. The Simons were recently selected as the 2020 MMPA Outstanding Young Dairy Cooperators (OYDC) by a panel of judges represented by leaders in the Great Lakes dairy industry.
The Simons operate a quality award winning farm with 930 cows and 2,300 acres. They are members of the MMPA Mid-Michigan Local in District 6 and were one of several finalists invited to the annual OYDC Conference held Aug. 11.
A third-generation dairy farmer, Brent takes on the role of farm manager, overseeing cows, crops and employees. Meanwhile, Emily puts her bachelor’s degree from Davenport University and experience with the State of Michigan to use while directing the farm’s finances and human resources.
Brent’s passion for dairy farming began at a young age growing up on Simon Dairy Farm. “I was probably 10, 12 years old,” Brent said of when he started pitching in on the farm. “I would be outside as soon as I got off the school bus and could throw my backpack in the house.”
Through gradual growth they enlarged the farm to the size it is today. In 1999, they expanded the farm for the first time. When Brent graduated from high school, they began planning the next expansion and they broke ground on the first new barns when he came home after completing the dairy management program at Michigan State University in 2004.
“When I graduated from college is when things started to really progress, and we started to be aggressive with our expansion,” Brent said.
The most recent expansion took place in 2012 that added yet another barn and brought their heifers home. “The growth has been gradual, a good pace for our expansions and transition,” Brent said.
But through growth and managing the day-to-day, Brent and Emily assert that taking the time to go the extra step is crucial.
“Doing things the right way” makes a difference according to Emily.
“Why bother doing the job if you’re not going to do it right. You can’t produce a safe, clean, quality product if you don’t do the right steps to meet those needs,” Brent added.
This focus is evident in their milk quality. A frequent flyer in the MMPA Quality Award program, their somatic cell counts—an indicator of good animal health and a better-tasting, shelf-stable product—average around 100,000 cells per milliliter.
In 2016, the Simon Dairy Farm was recognized as one of the six highest quality dairy farms in the U.S. by the National Mastitis Council. Brent said they follow strict milk procedures, developed with guidance from both MMPA and MSU Extension. But the key to achieving such a prestigious honor, he said, is the culmination of hard work from a lot of individuals, both in and out of the milk parlor.
“It is a big group effort from our employees, consultants, veterinarian, nutritionist—the whole team was part of that nomination. We’re pretty proud of that,” he said.
“A lot of people think that good quality milk comes from the parlor from the guys milking cows, but that’s just a small part of it,” Brent added. “Nutrition and cow comfort play a major role.”
Through meticulous control and monitoring, the Simons ensure their cows are getting the best nutrition to ultimately enable high quality milk production. They utilize weekly visits from their nutritionist and the use of feed watch to track daily dry matter intake, or the amount of moisture-free feed a cow consumes per day. Everyday they track feed inventories and feed bunks for each group of cows, which is delivered directly though a TMR mixer.
“As technology evolves our goal is to evolve along with it to make our farm most efficient,” they said. In addition to the programs they use to navigate their nutrition program, technology and software aids their milking parlor in running “smoothly and efficiently while providing great animal care.”
Sustainability also plays an important role on their farm. “Simon Dairy Farm is committed to producing quality milk while considerately working to conserve resources and manage our waste in a responsible way,” they said.
Sitting kitty-corner to the local high school, Simon Dairy Farm is very visible in their small farming community, but they use their location as way to promote what they do.
“With a school sitting across the street, we always have to be proactive and promote the wellbeing of farming and the animals themselves,” Brent said. “We want to be here for the future. We want to employ kids that come out of that school. We want the public to appreciate what we have here and realize that we do a good job and that we are here to stay.”
They are welcoming to community and industry on a regular basis, even hosting representatives from all over the world with the Alta Genetics showcase tour and being a World Dairy Expo virtual farm tour presenter.
“My parents always had an open door, open driveway policy since before I was involved” Brent said. “They were willing to educate people and just have a conversation. We have nothing to hide. We want people to see our farm, show it off and show the job our employees can do.” Looking toward the future, they hope to sustain their farm and livelihood for the next generation with the same opportunity Brent was afforded.
“My heart and desire were there from a very young age,” Brent said. “I just hope that we are able to continue to do what we love to do.”
Emily says having a future for their six kids—Kaine, Scarlett, Jude, Annabell, Theodore and Gabe—is the ultimate goal.
“In uncertain times it seems the only thing we can do is to work hard every single day showing our families and community the benefits the dairy industry brings to the world,” they said.
This article was originally published in the September/October 2020 issue of the Milk Messenger. Subscribe »