“I was born and raised on the dairy,” says Rob Seiber, owner of Seiber Dairy in Wiggins, Colorado. “I always knew this is where I wanted to be.”
Today, you will find Seiber in the middle of his 570-acre family farm milking 700 head of Holstein cattle three times each day. He also runs a calf ranch – started 12 years ago – where he feeds about 320 head on milk.
Seiber’s father started the dairy in 1979, milking 100 cows along with his father and brother. “The parlor he started with was a double-four herringbone with all outside corrals,” Seiber describes. “My mom fed the babies and of course did whatever else my dad needed her to help with, plus raise three boys.”
As with most farm kids, Seiber’s responsibilities started early. “I will never forget feeding cottonseed and flaked corn from big piles and putting it into buckets,” he recalls. The future owner also bucked bales of hay into the bunk and made sure all the cows ate uniform feed.
His on-the-job training has served him well. “I have never left the dairy for any other job,” he explains.
Seiber currently milks in a double-11 parallel parlor built in 1993. “It is definitely needing some remodeling done,” he admits. All the milk cows are housed in freestall barns. “The biggest barn we have holds 360 head, and three smaller barns hold the remainder of the 700,” Seiber says. “The only project I have in mind as of today is to finish the cross-vent[ilated] barn to hold 480 head.”
“I have one guy that is responsible for the entire milking team,” Seiber says. “He has been with us for 17 years now, and he knows how I want things done on a daily basis.” Nine employees work at the dairy. He says, “The biggest challenge coming up in the next few years is, ‘Do we go robotic or stay conventional?’”
“I have one guy that manages all of the feeding except when my dad feeds on Sundays – then he is his own boss,” Seiber laughs. “My greatest employment challenge has to be my outside night guy to pull calves and clean freestalls,” he shares. “It seems like as soon as I find a good one and get him trained, he is gone.” The lifelong dairyman believes the biggest issue facing the dairy industry overall in the next five years will be labor.
Seiber also uses a number of professional consultants for genetics, breeding, healthcare and nutrition expertise.
“Our genetics are definitely getting better as we have been using All Star Genetics for going on 10 years and Select Sires going on four years,” he explains. Seiber allows Select Sires to do all his breeding, including heifers. “I have a very good relationship with the main guy for Select here in Colorado, and their breeders are second to none.”
An independent veterinarian, Dr. Nick Schneider, does all of the pregnancy checks for the dairy and sets up all of his cows for breeding. “I also rely on my Diamond V salesman/consultant to do feed audits, parlor audits and wash ups for me,” he shares. “I love to work with all of these guys.”
One of the most important members of Seiber’s team is Cameron Nightingale, a Ph.D. dairy nutritionist and management consultant with Pine Creek Nutrition Service. “I would say the best decision I have ever made was bringing in Nightingale and giving him the go-ahead to change whatever he needed to change going on three years ago,” he points out. “Our cows have never performed or looked this nice ever since I can remember.”
Most of Seiber’s 570 acres is planted in corn silage except for 150 acres of hay. Nightingale has helped him maximize the efficiency of both his facilities and management with strategies including a low-density diet for his transition cows. “It allows us to use a lot of homegrown straw and oat hay,” he explains. Often referred to as a “Goldilocks” approach, Seiber has found the controlled energy diet complements the far-dry ration.
“We have been using this type of nutrition program for a little over two years,” he says. “We observed very quickly a reduction in fresh cow problems and over time have seen fewer culls in early lactation, better first service conception and improved peak milk.” There are only a few metabolic events in fresh cows each year.
Seiber is willing to both try new things and learn from his mistakes. For example, “If I could go back to when I was 25, I would tell myself to run a better heifer program,” he admits. “Our heifer program back 15 years ago was not good at all.” The Seibers tried robotic calf feeders among other strategies. “We should have just let a heifer raiser grow them until we could figure out what the problem was.” They eventually determined a bad vaccine protocol was to blame.
Seiber is passing on all he knows to his own children as another generation is investing in the family farm. His oldest daughters have fed calves, and his 16-year-old son does everything from milking to treating cows, as well as cleaning pens, running the Mensch manure vacuum or whatever his father needs to have done.
“My dad is 61 this year,” Seiber says. “He and my mom have been married for 42 years and counting.” Seiber considers them the absolute best role models he could have. “I couldn't ask for a better dad or mentor to look up to as a child or adult.”
Father and son have worked alongside one another for 38 years. During that time, the dairy has expanded sevenfold, facing challenges and building on success. Seiber wouldn’t have it any other way. He says, “I loved and still do love everything about being a dairy farmer.”
Karena Elliott is an international freelance writer. She makes her home in Amarillo, Texas.
PHOTO 1: Second-generation dairyman Rob Seiber of Colorado.
PHOTO 2: Robert Seiber, founder of Seiber Dairy, runs a horizontal screw feed truck.
PHOTO 3: Rob Seiber, right, and his nutritionist, Dr. Cameron Nightingale, left, examine a ration. Photos provided by Rob Seiber.
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