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Pagel’s Ponderosa Dairy committed to environmental stewardship

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Features - Producers

Pagel’s Ponderosa Dairy in Kewaunee, Wisconsin, is the state’s largest single family-owned dairy. It’s also a cutting-edge example of what technology can bring to a dairy operation.

Owner John Pagel grew up on the Ponderosa. His father purchased the farm in 1946 with just eight cows and a few pigs and chickens. John took over the dairy, which milked 65 cows in 1978, and expanded the operation. Today, Pagel’s Ponderosa Dairy includes 4,600 cattle and 7,500 acres of cropland. John and his wife, Kim, have four children, all of whom work at the home farm. In addition, the farm employs 100 people from the local community.

Pagels milk 3,500 cows on a 72-stall rotating parlor. Cows are milked three times a day for about four minutes, with a full parlor rotation lasting about eight minutes. That means that 525 cows can be milked in an hour, producing five to six trailers of milk each day. About 40 percent of the animals are treated with bST.

Cattle are housed in two freestall barns. Each barn is the length of three football fields and holds 1,750 cows. Seventy-two fans at the end of each barn create a wind speed of six miles per hour and eliminate pests. The stalls are cleaned at every milking and the cattle are fed a total mixed ration once a day.

A majority of the feed is produced on the farm. Pagels plant 400 acres of corn per day in the spring and harvest 600 acres of alfalfa and 3,000 tons of corn silage daily in the fall. The farm’s feed bunkers hold 100,000 tons of silage.

Although milk is of course the main product on Pagel’s Ponderosa, the farm also places high value on the cows’ other output. Manure is used in four different ways on the farm. In addition to applying liquid manure to the cropland as fertilizer, the farm operates a methane digester with a capacity for 3.2 million gallons of manure. The solids acquired through the process are used as bedding in the freestall barns and sold as potting soil to the neighbors. The electricity generated from the digester powers 800 homes – almost the entire city of Kewaunee.

The methane digester isn’t the only innovation on the Ponderosa. Computer chips placed in the ear of each cow assist the herdsman with monitoring breeding records. Pagels use a double Ovsynch breeding program. Holsteins are crossed with Jerseys to produce a smaller cow with high-quality milk. This is done simply because the smaller animals fit better on the rotating parlor.

Cows about to freshen are moved to the maternity barn. Upon birth, calves are fed colostrum and housed in private pens until old enough to be placed into group pens. Eventually, the animals will move to the freestall barn to be milked in the rotating parlor. The cows that are too large for the rotating parlor or any special needs cows are milked at a different facility with a double-20 parlor.

In every aspect of the operation, John is committed to environmental stewardship. As a UW Discovery Farm, the dairy voluntarily monitors the quality of surface and ground water for sediments and nutrients. John is also committed to finding new ways to keep his cows as healthy and comfortable as possible.

“The cow is a voluntary animal,” he said. “She’ll give back to you according to how you care for her.”  PD

Andrea Bloom works for Vita Plus in Madison, Wisconsin.


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