Loss of farmland for production is not only a concern in Wisconsin; it is a worry to farmers in Ohio as well.
Ohio is No. 11 in the country for dairy, but it is still a major industry in the state with about 3,000 active dairy farms and 270,000 cows.
The Rufener family in Suffield, OH, have dealt with the development issue by purchasing land that comes up for sale in their area in order to insure their family will have the opportunity to raise crops on it in the future.
Ken and Linda Rufener and their sons Mike and Ken, Jr. operate a modern dairy farm with the help of about 10 employees including Ken Sr.'s brother who enjoys the farm but preferred not to invest in the business. They are in an area of Ohio where there are not many other dairy farms, and a nearby popular lake has attracted developers.
Rufener says Ohio has a farm preservation program, but it is not as successful as that of their neighbor, Pennsylvania. He says a couple of his neighbors have placed a conservation easement on their farms to protect the land from development, but he and his sons decided to go another route and purchase land that comes up for sale.
Over the years, the farm, which has been in the family since 1843, has grown and now includes 3,000 acres. They raise their own feed as well as cash grain, and they do some custom chopping.
They raise their own replacement calves and heifers and also raise their bull calves, feeding out about 300 steers a year.
They breed their older cows to Limousine bulls that are proven through their dairy, and they use sexed dairy semen on heifers. They also flush a few of their better registered Holsteins and market about 15 breeding bulls each year.
"We're milking 650 cows, but we don't have any plans to grow our dairy herd," said Mike, who is in charge of the dairy part of the business. "Our growth has been in diversification. That has worked well for us. Beef prices have been good, and we have income from a variety of sources."
They mix their own calf feed, using oats and corn raised on their farm. They also have an automated system that grinds corn for the dairy herd from the large storage bin.
Since there are not many dairy farms in the area, they have been very active in reaching out to their community by offering tours, educating students and taking care with their manure handling.
"We are not required to have a nutrient management plan, but we have developed one so that we are a good neighbor," Ken said.
They have manure storage for three months and use equipment that disks it in as they spread it on fields where there are homes nearby. Having a hilly farm, they need to pick and choose which fields they can spread on to prevent runoff.
For many years, Linda invited schools to bring students to tour the farm. She never charged for the tours and did it without the support of a farm organization. Now she has cut back on the tours, however, when their insurance company expressed concerns about liability.
The farm has also helped to support an area agricultural charter school that was established in the Akron area two years ago.
She still devotes many hours to helping youngsters learn how to show and care for dairy animals. Several youngsters show the Rufener's registered Holsteins at the local county fair.
The family milked in a stall barn until 1979 when they built a D10 Herringbone parlor. In 2012, they updated their facilities to include a new freestall barn, holding area and the double 16 parlor.
"Getting the cows used to this parlor was a challenge," Mike said. It was a nightmare, but once they got used to it, things went very well. We like this system so much better."
The cows needed to learn how to use the parallel stalls that require them to make a 90-degree turn to enter the stall with their heads down. A sequence gate swings shut behind them so the next cow in the line only has the choice to enter the next stall. A rapid-exit lift system opens fully after the cows on a side are milked.
The new parlor includes a basement that houses the milk receivers/weigh jars, milk pipelines, pumps and the other guts of the milking system.
"The best thing about the system is the automatic radio frequency identification system that helps track the cows' milk production, herd health and breeding and sorts the cows," Mike said. "I check the deviation every day on the computer, and I can immediately pick out any cows that might have a problem."
Their freestall barn includes mattresses padded with air and rubber wings that flex inside for cow comfort.
"They were expensive, but the cows love them," he added. "We cover them with sawdust. It's easier on the manure-handling equipment than sand would be."
Before building the parlor and barn, they traveled to dairy farms around the country, including Wisconsin. They are frequent visitors to World Dairy Expo in Madison where they gather information about new equipment and trends in the dairy industry.
Mike recently visited farms in the Dorchester area of Wisconsin seeking ideas for calf care facilities. Right now they have their calves in hutches with two area women in charge of the calf care program.
"It's working well right now, but we're always looking at ways to get more efficient, and visiting with farmers to learn what works for them is a great way to learn," Mike said.