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Pennsylvania, Indiana dairy producers meet for day of learning

Sherry Bunting Published on 06 May 2014
The management and storage of feedstuffs at Seven Hills Dairy is critical to profitability, and Henk Sevenhuysen grows some forage and works with local farms to procure additional forage for the herd.

Jam-packed with seven northern Indiana farm visits ranging from 200 to 3,000 cows, the March 2014 Spring Dairy Tour by the Professional Dairy Managers of Pennsylvania (PDMP) gave Northeast producers a look at Midwest dairy farming through the eyes of the owners and managers who touch 40,000 of the Hoosier state’s 178,000 cows.

The 30 producers on the tour bus from Pennsylvania joined up the first day with 60 Indiana producers. PDMP executive secretary Alan Novak thanked Doug Leman, executive secretary of the Indiana Dairy Producers (IDP), for putting together a great day for learning together.

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The two buses carrying producers from both states toured the Fair Oaks Farms’ Dairy and Pig Adventures, then stopped at Hidden View Dairy, one of the Bos dairies but owned by Fred Schakel and family, and Seven Hills Dairy, owned by Henk and Linda Sevenhuysen.

After dinner, they spent the evening honing business and marketing skills with Kevin Jones of Ghost Hollow Consulting and Marshall Harting and Patrick Patton of Stewart-Peterson.

0814pd_bunting_Henk and Linda Sevenhuysen and their children, Pete and Sharon, welcomed Pennsylvania and Indiana dairy producers to their Seven Hills Dairy, home to roughly 2,000 milking cows.

Producers said the morning meeting with Fair Oaks co-founder and chairman of the board Dr. Mike McCloskey was “a real treat.”

“We need more visionaries like this in our dairy industry to be working on marketing,” said Dale Hoffman of Kar-Dale-Acres, Shinglehouse, Pennsylvania.

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“[McCloskey] was a lot more down to earth than I had expected, and I was impressed by his knowledge,” said Joe Hibschman of Oneeda Farms, Syracuse, Indiana.

In fact, Hibschman’s 200-cow fourth-generation dairy farm was the last Indiana stop for the Pennsylvania bus two days later on the way to Ohio to meet with members of the Ohio Dairy Producers Association en route to home.

0814pd_bunting_Fair Oaks Farms’ co-founder and manager Dr. Mike McCloskey talks with producers from Pennsylvania and Indiana in the “birthing theater” at the Dairy Adventure, while two cows are moments away from calving behind the glass.

The session with McCloskey covered everything from production, expansion and management protocols to marketing domestically and globally as well as agritourism and the promise and pitfalls of consumer communication.

People used to be concerned about what could make them sick tomorrow. Today, they worry about effects (real or imagined) 20 years from now. “This is why a science-based discussion is so vital,” he said. “We have to be knowledgeable, educated, transparent and truthful.”

Instead of tail-docking, for example, tails are shaved to keep them clean at Fair Oaks Farms. “I had a tough time telling the story about why we docked tails, so we stopped docking tails. I didn’t want the perception of that one thing to ruin the rest of the story we have to tell.”

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Producers from both states mixed together on two buses at Fair Oaks before heading to other dairy farms in the Hoosier state on March 25.

Likewise, the new Fair Oaks Pig Adventure – another highlight for the visiting dairymen – does not use gestation crates. Instead, a well-orchestrated timeline of commingling bred gilts at about three days post-breeding allows gilts to get their group hierarchy battles over with before their pregnancies implant.

McCloskey’s focus on revitalizing the “desirability-factor” of milk was another obvious highlight. He indicated the reality that whole milk consumption has not declined even though the entire category of fluid milk – including reduced-fat versions – has.

He talked about milk beverage formulations through Fairlife – a subsidiary of Fair Oaks’ parent company, Select Milk Producers, in partnership with Coca-Cola. He also touched on their patented concentrating and dispensing machine that has schoolchildren drinking more milk at the renowned Elsie Whitlow Stokes Charter School in Washington, D.C. The military was the first to test this new twist on “a fresh glass of milk.”

Doug Leman, executive secretary of Indiana Dairy Producers, introduced the PDMP tour to Henk Sevenhuysen (left) at Seven Hills Dairy.

Noting that globalization makes it “fascinating to be in food production,” McCloskey said, “We have to first win this communication battle before we can get to productivity. That’s what Fair Oaks is about. Yes, it’s about making money, but communicating about agriculture is our heart and soul.”

He also said a big key is to “keep the advances in the hands of the farmers, since we are the ones taking on all of the risk.”

“As this industry continues to consolidate, it’s important for producers to improve how we tell our story and for state organizations to work together to find common solutions to the common problems we face and the desire we share for a vibrant dairy industry,” said Steve Obert, a southern Indiana dairy producer and IDP president. “Pennsylvania’s dairy industry has so much heritage. We appreciated having them in our state.”

PDMP President Tony Brubaker of Brubaker Farms, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, said the tour was eye-opening from start to finish, and the group learned from each stop along the way. “It was great to spend time learning together with Indiana producers on the first day.

Fair Oaks is made up of 11 separately owned 3,000-cow dairy farms shipping 250,000 gallons of milk a day.

We all found ideas to take home to our operations,” he said. “The tours reinforced how multiple generations of family members work together in business structures that allow us to continue our passion in dairy farming.”

While in Indiana, the PDMP bus also stopped at Homestead Dairy, milking 3,000 cows on multiple farms, where Brian Houin’s zeal for technology was a highlight. They also saw exemplary heifer raising at Beer Farms Inc. and were interested in alternative feeds at the 800-cow Frauhiger Dairy. PD

Sherry Bunting is a freelance writer based in East Earl, Pennsylvania .

PHOTOS
PHOTO ONE: The management and storage of feedstuffs at Seven Hills Dairy is critical to profitability, and Henk Sevenhuysen grows some forage and works with local farms to procure additional forage for the herd.

PHOTO TWO: Henk and Linda Sevenhuysen and their children, Pete and Sharon, welcomed Pennsylvania and Indiana dairy producers to their Seven Hills Dairy, home to roughly 2,000 milking cows.

PHOTO THREE: Fair Oaks Farms’ co-founder and manager Dr. Mike McCloskey talks with producers from Pennsylvania and Indiana in the “birthing theater” at the Dairy Adventure, while two cows are moments away from calving behind the glass.

PHOTO FOUR: Producers from both states mixed together on two buses at Fair Oaks before heading to other dairy farms in the Hoosier state on March 25.

PHOTO FIVE: Doug Leman, executive secretary of Indiana Dairy Producers, introduced the PDMP tour to Henk Sevenhuysen (left) at Seven Hills Dairy. His perspective and sense of humor sparked many questions from tour-goers. He and his wife, Linda, emigrated from the Netherlands to Ontario and then to Indiana, so they have dairied under European, Canadian and U.S. systems.

PHOTO SIX: Fair Oaks is made up of 11 separately owned 3,000-cow dairy farms shipping 250,000 gallons of milk a day. Last year, 180,000 visitors paid to tour the Dairy Adventure, and McCloskey expects to break 250,000 this year with the addition of the 2,800-sow Pig Adventure via Legacy Farms last July. Photos courtesy of Sherry Bunting.

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