Kutz Dairy, LLC, a few miles outside of Jefferson, is a family dairy with 1,450 Jersey cows being milked and some 1400 acres of owned and rented land being cropped.
The family ownership includes Ron and Pam Kutz and sons Aaron and Allen, who, as they have done many times in the past, recently hosted a group of visitors who viewed the dairy facility, heard the history and learned about a modern 2013 dairy operation.
It was the annual southern Wisconsin BMO Harris bank tour that has been a looked-forward-to-event by dairy producers and agri-dairy marketers for many years. This year was a bit different as no busses were used (everyone drove) and a large number of BMO Harris employees, many not directly involved in agricultural lending, were part of the visiting group.
Yes, Kutz Dairy is one of Wisconsin's 216 dairy Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) that some people view with disdain as "mega farms, corporate farms or factory farms."
No, Kutz Dairy is not owned by a big non-farm corporation or a rich millionaire hobbyist who is intent on driving small farms out of business as opponents of any farm other than what grand dad farmed on, often infer.
Yes, the Kutz family: Ron, Pam and sons Aaron and Allan are the owners, managers and operators of the family dairy LLC and in every way run a true family farm using 2013 technology and practices.
40 YEARS OF GROWTH
Kutz Dairy most certainly did not happen overnight or as the result of a master plan drawn out in the beginning. It all dates to 1973 when the newly married Ron and Pam Kutz set up farming with a half dozen pigs and 10 cows on a 60-acre farm.
"Our barn had 25 stanchions," Ron remembers. "So it was logical that we add cows to fill those empty spaces, that was our first expansion."
In 1978, a 50-foot barn expansion allowed the addition of 45 cows bringing the herd to 70 milk cows, not quite double the state herd average of 40 cows on the state's 47,000 dairy herds.
Three years later another 60-foot barn addition was constructed.
In 1992 a major change in dairying was made with the construction of a 180-cow freestall barn and double 12 milking parlor. This barn was doubled in size in 1995.
Like many other dairy farms in Wisconsin during the 1990s, Jersey crossbreeding was introduced into the then all-Holstein Kutz herd to add butterfat and calving ease.
This led to a major change in the Kutz family thinking as their regard for the Jersey breed increased. The result? The direction of the growing Kutz herd was taking changed, when in 2000 they introduced Jerseys by buying a 50-cow herd.
More Jerseys came in 2003 with the addition of 400 cows and in 2005 another 400 Jerseys joined the herd and the last of the Holsteins left the herd. That was also the year the family formed Kutz Dairy, LLC.
Today the free stalls at Kutz Dairy are a "sea" of fawn colored, registered Jerseys that have reached high levels in butterfat and protein production (62 pounds per cow milk average) near the top in American Jersey Cattle Association records.
The young calves at Kutz dairy are housed in buildings that resemble mobile homes - something I'd never seen before - that are temperature controlled, clean, dry and fly-free. Allan Kutz, the calf manager, is proud of the health and minimal loss of calves under the farm's calf care program and attributes the rather unusual housing as a major factor.
MANURE IS MANAGED
The newest addition to the farming program at Kutz Dairy is the McLanahan sand and solids removal system that has been in operation for the past year-and-a-half. Sand is removed from the manure, stored for 10 days and reused as bedding in the freestall barns and manure solids are removed, run through a composter that takes out about 10 percent of the moisture and currently used as bedding in some barns.
Aaron Kutz says, that after the kinks are worked out of the new system, the plan is to market these solids to gardeners and landscapers as plant food.
Ron, Aaron and Allan Kutz were early adapters of the new corn silage making system called Shredlage, where the corn is cut in longer lengths and more lengthwise. In fact, Allan says much of the early Shredlage research was conducted on their fields in 2010.
The Kutz family , who buy all their grain, now has three years of experience with Shredlage (850 acres last year) and are more than happy with the results in terms of higher milk production.
A farm tour of a modern dairy is never long enough or complete enough: There are so many new systems being used, innovations being tried, equipment with strange names and ideas formulated by the families that operate the dairies, making each operation unique and different.
Critics of expanded dairy farms often ask questions aimed at proving that the farms they remember or see in grandmother's photo album were the best way to farm, like:
Question: "Fifty cows are enough for my dad, why do they need to milk a thousand cows?" Answer: Fifty cows are still enough if you want to farm like granddad: All work, no vacations; little income unless one is raising specialty crops or livestock genetics and most important, the farm is too small to involve a son(s) or daughters(s) to take over the farm as the next generation.
Question: How can anyone take care of a thousand cows? Granddad had a name for each animal and worked with them individually?
Answer: This often asked question is almost too lame to answer. The old stanchion barn locked cows in one position for long periods, teats were regularly stepped on by other cows and no cow ever had a proper sized stall.
Cattle in a freestall barn are never tied, are free to roam and have 24-hour access to a ration formulated for health and production. Dairying today is all about cow comfort and every animal is important
Question: Why do dairy farms have to get so big?
Answer: They don't have too, in fact there only 216 dairy herds called CAFO's (700 cows or more) in Wisconsin, that leaves about 10,700 herds that are smaller. Most of the expanded dairy farms are the result of growth over a long period of time (40 years at the Kutz Dairy). They are family owned, set up for the long term and the owners are innovative, business-minded, love dairy farming and want their children to be able carry on the family farm in the future.
Just visit and ask the Kutz family, or the Larsons, Meinholzes, Craves, Fitzgeralds, Natzkes and so many more. You'll see.
John F. Oncken is owner of Oncken Communications, a Madison-based agricultural information and consulting company. He can be reached at 608-222-0624 or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.