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Rosy-Lane Holsteins in Watertown remains 'shining example' of sustainability

Grace Connatser
Wisconsin State Farmer
Holsteins at Rosy Lane Holsteins, in Watertown, keep an eye on a group of Outstanding Young Farmer finalists touring the farm on Jan. 27.

Rosy-Lane Holsteins are continuing to set the example for Wisconsin dairy farms through their award-winning practices.

The Watertown dairy recently received the 2020 US Dairy Sustainability Award and made a guest appearance on the Dairy Stream podcast, a joint project of the Dairy Business Association and Edge Dairy Farmer Cooperative. Podcast host Mike Austin called them the "shining example" of farm sustainability.

Owners Lloyd Holterman and Jordan Matthews said they look for every opportunity to improve their dairy farm through sustainability practices, including reusing water, increasing feed efficiency, planting cover crops and stopping use of antibiotics on their cows. Rosy-Lane has not used antibiotics on any cows in seven years.

When the farm had a mastitis problem several years ago, veterinarians from the University of Wisconsin-Madison told them to "roll the dice" and see what happened, Matthews said.

"What the research out of UW was saying is that a cow actually cures herself and those antibiotics are not needed," Matthews said. "Since we've made that change, it's been over seven years, just haven't used it. And I would see no reason to go back that way."

Holterman said it's also the little things that really add up in cost savings. He installed LED lights on the farm, started using variable-speed motors in his equipment and started using natural gas for energy. They also are a low-till farm and reuse their water supply two or three times before it gets combined with manure and applied to alfalfa and corn crops, he said.

"Actually, all the drinking water on the farm is second use water," Holterman said. "It goes through our plate cooler to take some heat off the milk, and it goes out to the cows at a little warmer temperature so it's a little more drinkable, not just straight, cold water."

Before the pandemic, Rosy-Lane would also regularly offer tours to the public because the farm wanted to be as transparent with consumers as possible, Holterman said. They would often give tours to both farm and non-farm people based on what they were interested in hearing about. Matthews added that they also answer lots of questions on their social media pages, where they regularly post pictures and take questions from their followers.

"I think the farmer and the consumer have become so disconnected," Matthews said. "It seems like we get 20 to 30 questions for every picture we post, which shows there's extreme interest in it. ... We need to challenge ourselves on going back to the basics and sharing that information with everyone out there."

Holterman said genetics are also very important when they breed cows. Rosy-Lane has been working to breed their cows to increase fertility and disease resistance. They've used the Cornell Pro-Dairy program monthly since 2007 to help them keep track of herd genetics and statistics that help them make decisions and keep track of progress along the way.

"By breeding our cows for more health, we have been able to get more milk per cow, reduce our feed cost per cow, increase feed efficiency, lower vet costs, improve our (reproduction) and have healthier, longer-living cows," Holterman said.

Overall, Holterman and Matthews say farm sustainability is a win-win for both the farm and the community because it introduces ways to save money and improve the environment at the same time. Matthews said the concept of sustainability also isn't new for farmers and in fact has been practiced for decades already.

"This is our livelihood," Matthews said. "It's a life cycle. ... You know, Lloyd Arthur Holterman bought the farm back in the early 60's. But we wouldn't be here today if they weren't sustainable for the previous 50 years."