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Michigan dairies on display for National Holstein Convention

Bev Berens for Progressive Dairyman Published on 20 July 2018
Holstein sale

Holstein enthusiasts from across the U.S. gathered in northern Michigan June 30 to July 3 for the National Holstein Convention at the Grand Traverse Resort and Spa in Acme, Michigan.

Over 1,200 registered attendees were invited to “Explore the Shore” through a combination of tours, which included registered Holstein operations, tourist destinations like Mackinac Island, Sleeping Bear Dunes, sailboat rides at Grand Traverse Bay, sport fishing or a float down the Platte River, lighthouse tours and local points of interest.

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The village of McBain rolled out the red carpet, hosting eight motor coaches loaded with visitors to tour selected farms in one of Michigan’s uniquely secluded, dairy-producing regions.

Ber-Sher Dairy

Ber-Sher Dairy, a 220-cow registered Holstein operation focused on dairy type and high components, was one of those stops.

“I told my dad when I was a little girl that my dream was to have Greyhound busses pull in the yard someday,” said Kendra Brinks-Rivera, herd manager and daughter of Ron and Barb Brinks. “My dream is happening. I am beyond words.”

Her husband, Ruben, is employed on the farm along with her brother, Nick. The farm was started in 1922 by her great-grandfather.

Each generation has had the opportunity to work with and develop at least one exceptional cow family. Ber-Sher Mogul Relay Rix-ET is the cow capturing Brinks-Rivera’s focus right now.

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“She’s been flushed and has given me quite a few Very Goods so far, but they aren’t quite old enough yet to score Excellent,” she said. “Her mom is Ber-Sher Jeeves Roman Relay-ET, who produced multiple Excellent daughters and had several contracts. We are trying to build multiple good cow families.”

The cows at Ber-Sher Dairy are more than just pretty. They work hard to pay their way, producing milk with 4 percent butterfat and 3.2 percent protein at an average of 85 pounds per day.

Brinks-Rivera and her family demonstrated that a small farm in a small town can still be viable. She knows the cows by name, their history and a story behind each one.

“It’s an aspect of farming I never want to lose or give up,” she said.

Bosscher Dairy

Bosscher Dairy in McBain, Michigan, is owned by Mike Bosscher, who also runs the cropping and custom harvest side of the farm. Joe Kulhawick is the herd manager of nearly 30 years and owns a portion of the herd.

Bosscher Dairy is another example of a dairy that focuses on maintaining size while improving quality. They have maintained a consistent herd size for 10 years with 270 cows on test and roughly 240 cows milking at any given time. The herd earned a top spot on Northstar’s performance summary report for Michigan, Ohio, Indiana and Wisconsin last year. Last year, they were recognized by the National Mastitis Council as one of the nation’s top herds for milk quality.

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Learn more about Bosscher Dairy.

Bosscher Dairy hosted the convention’s tour luncheon, along with a cattle showcase. Breeders from the southern part of Michigan trucked in about 50 head of cattle to be examples of their elite genetics for the display.

Hidden Hills Dairy

Hidden Hills Dairy, owned by brothers Brian and Phil Brunink and Brian’s son, Tony, opened their farm to convention guests. They milk 1,095 cows, averaging 27,662 pounds of milk, 3.7 percent fat and 3.1 percent protein, in a parlor built in 2015. The herd is 50 percent registered with the remainder ID’d.

Brian experienced mountain-top highs when he was named Michigan’s 2017 Master Holstein Breeder and asked to host a convention tour stop. He has always enjoyed the challenge of breeding great cows or bulls, and appreciates having had good cow families with which to work. He has bred or developed 27 Excellent cows and three multiple E cows, along with 200 Very Good, 25 Dams of Merit and 43 Elite Performer cows. Mara-Thone RC Martha (5E-93) is a special favorite with a lifetime production of 418,143 pounds of milk.

Several bulls have come from Hidden Hills genetics, including B-HiddenHills Mark-O-Polo, Marathon BW Marshall, B-HiddenHills Marmax and B-HiddenHills Plan.

When selecting matings, Brian focuses on midsized cows with good production, strong udders and a correct set of feet and legs. He flushes high-genomic cows to keep up with industry trends, and in December 2016, fifteen B-HiddenHills cows were in the top 10,000 for CTPI, eight of which were on the Locater List.

The family also travelled through the valley of extreme lows and uncertainty when Brian suffered a stroke last fall. Now, instead of focusing on matings and genetics, he is consumed with relearning basics like walking, talking and eating. These circumstances have led the family to place the facility up for sale, announcing it as an investment opportunity to the farm’s visitors.

Yonkman Dairy

Yonkman Dairy hosted the fourth and final tour stop. It is owned and operated by parents Sam and Denise Yonkman, daughter and herdsman, Molly Pluger, and her husband, BJ, and sons Lucas and Ryan.

In 2016, Yonkman Dairy installed a new 40-stall rotary parlor with a post-dipping robot.

“We built the parlor with robots to increase our parlor efficiency,” Pluger said. “We went from milking 11 hours two times a day to milking three times a day with downtime and hired no extra help. The cows are so comfortable on the rotary; they really enjoy being milked.”

Efficiency and cow comfort are primary herd goals. Modern freestall barns were designed and built to provide the cattle with maximum comfort. The new parlor nailed the quest for efficient milk harvest and has yet to arrive at its 1,400-head peak capacity.

“We have to be as efficient as we can; it is just the way things are today,” Pluger added.

She has a few cow families she has been pleased to grow, which contribute outstanding traits throughout the herd. One of those is 116 Aptitude EX-91. She milked 39,969 pounds on her last 305-day test. She has produced all daughters that have consistently captured her great genetics, including three generations of Excellent cows including 463 Frosty EX-91, and Frosty’s daughter, 1273 Shot EX-90.

“Another cow we particularly like is our 3-year-old 2068-Watson VG-88,” Pluger said. “She is ranked among the top 10,000 CTPI cows in the USA and won her class at the district show as a 2-year-old.”

“We value our high-component, good-milking and well-put-together cows,” Pluger said. Those achievements have been made through many years of sound selection. The herd averages 91 pounds of milk per cow with 3.9 percent butterfat and 3.1 percent protein.

Pluger was just as eager to showcase her family’s farm as she was to show off her hometown. “We have a group of great farmers in the area. We are always trying to do a better job; we learn all the time. They are farms that are always moving forward, and nobody is at a dead end.”

Other convention highlights

David Harvatine was named Distinguished Young Holstein Breeder of the Year. He is co-owner and manager of Aurora Ridge Dairy north of Ithaca, New York, where they milk 2,250 head.

The Elite Breeder Award went to Tom and Gin Kestell of Ever-Green-View Farms of Waldo, Wisconsin. The Kestells operate one of the world’s highest-producing herds along with an export business that has sent over 8,900 embryos in the last nine years to countries including Russia, China, Germany, Brazil, Japan, India and the Netherlands. In 2017, their exports accounted for more than 14 percent of all U.S. dairy embryo exports.

Six junior Holstein members were recognized as National Distinguished Junior members. These members were recognized due to their involvement and participation in Holstein-related activities and rose to the top of the pack through an interview conducted during the convention. This year’s class of distinguished juniors includes Alexandra Gambonini, Petaluma, California; Kayla Leiding, Fountain, Minnesota; Erin Norris, Westhampton, Massachusetts; Joseph Opsal, Blue Mounds, Wisconsin; Nicholas Logan Potts, Purcellville, Virginia; and Mary Scott, Westgate, Iowa.

Winners in the youth public speaking contest were Jenna Larson of Florida (junior division), Danielle Herrick of New York (intermediate division) and Connor Nugent of Michigan (senior division).

The Holstein Association board honored retiring directors R. Paul Buhr of Wisconsin (Region 5) and Patrick Maddox of California (Region 9). A reorganization meeting welcomed returning directors John Andersen of Idaho and John Marshman of New York, and newly elected directors Robert Webb of Wisconsin and Bill Genasci of California. Directors serve three-year terms.

An elite Holstein sale culminated the convention where sale lots paraded through the Governor’s Ballroom. The sale averaged $12,077 on 87 full lots with a gross of $1,037,050. Topping the sale was Lot 1 at $91,000, the number 2 GTPI Modesty in the breed at +2904, out of a Delta daughter of a VG-87 supersire from the Misty Springs Shottle Satin family. She was purchased by Peak Genetics.  end mark

Bev Berens is a freelance writer in Holland, Michigan.

PHOTO: An elite Holstein sale culminated the convention where lots paraded through the Governor’s Ballroom. The sale averaged $12,077 on 87 full lots with a gross of $1,037,050. Photo by Bev Berens.

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