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Majestic Crossing Dairy: Seeking sustainability through unbounded innovation

Progressive Dairyman Editor Dave Natzke Published on 06 June 2019
Dean Strauss

Editor’s note: Progressive Dairyman features recipients of the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy’s eighth annual U.S. Dairy Sustainability Awards.

Three farms – Cinnamon Ridge Farms of Donahue, Iowa; Majestic Crossing Dairy of Sheboygan Falls, Wisconsin; and Philip Verwey Farms of Hanford, California – were recipients of Outstanding Dairy Farm Sustainability awards.

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In addition to the Outstanding Dairy Farm Sustainability honorees, General Mills and Foremost Farms were recognized for Outstanding Dairy Supply Chain Collaboration, and Gleaners Community Food Bank was recognized for Outstanding Community Impact.

In their words

“I generally wish the public would know that farmers really do care. We are good people who are part of our local community.

Many of us have been here for multiple generations and have learned from the people before us on how to do our craft. I feel we as farmers are in the nutrition business. We have the opportunity to engage and be part of the solution if we are at the table.”

“Sustainability means different things to different people, but to us it is about protecting or saving resources. I like to look at sustainability as a three-legged milking stool: Socially, we need to care for our people, land and animals, and be part of our communities. The environment part is caring for our natural resources and saving energy. The economic part is that we as farmers need to be profitable in order to invest in new opportunities and remain in business for the future.”

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“Many of us are doing these things already, and we don’t even know it. We view it as part of who we are and what we do. We just need to be able to get these newer concepts/ideas elevated to a level that the farming community can adapt them, along with the profitability to make them work.”

Majestic Crossing Dairy Barn

Majestic Crossing Dairy, located near Sheboygan Falls in southeastern Wisconsin, was formed in 2011 when four (Wedepohl, Herzog, Radloff and Strauss) families who had been dairy farming in the area for generations came together. The partnership allowed the farm to support all four families, expand the sustainability efforts and invest back in the community.

Their commitment to sustainability begins with taking excellent care of the land and animals. From implementing a crossbreeding program about 15 years ago to select smaller, efficient and productive cows to adopting a global positioning system (GPS) on tractors and other machinery to identify cropping efficiencies, Majestic Crossing’s guiding message is this: “Don’t be bound by what is and what others are doing; think about what could be and then strive to find the best and most efficient manner to achieve that goal.”

Path to sustainability

While environmental stewardship has been a longstanding goal, a unique, strategic shift toward sustainability occurred when co-owner Dean Strauss began building a herd of crossbred cattle about 14 years ago. The goal of the crossbreeding program was to produce a smaller, more efficient cow, requiring less feed and producing less manure, that provided milk components best suited for the cheese market. While other herds may get more milk per cow, Majestic Crossing’s three-breed rotational cross (Holstein, Viking Red and Montbeliarde, also called ProCross) efficiently produces about 75 pounds of 4.1 percent butterfat/3.4 percent protein milk per cow per day.

In addition to selecting for high-cheese-producing milk, breeding emphasis is placed on strong feet and legs and high conception rates. The profitability generated by feed efficiency and income per hundredweight of milk sold is enhanced by improved conception rates, leading to the ability to market 125 head of extra dairy replacement heifers per year and gaining higher market value for bull calves.

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With labor availability an ongoing challenge, Majestic Crossing invested $2 million in 13 robotic milkers and building modifications in one facility in 2017. One unexpected environmental benefit of the robotic milkers is a 30 percent reduction in water use to less than 20 gallons per cow each day.

Crop management

Manure is the main source of nutrients for the farm’s 3,600 acres of cropland but, because of the distance between the dairies and the fields, most is trucked. With less water, the manure’s nutrient concentration is higher, cutting hauling costs by $30,000 to $40,000 and allowing lower application rates per acre, reducing the risk of runoff and improving neighbor relations through reduced traffic on the roads.

The robots reduced the need for three full-time employees, and Majestic Crossing also credits the robots for improved reproductive efficiency and decreased cases of clinical mastitis and related treatment costs, benefits not even considered when evaluating the milking system’s payback.

Majestic Crossing Dairy keeps an open mind on new practices that address their sustainability goals. They switched to a machine that converts solar salt and water into teat dip, thereby reducing purchases of plastic totes. They’ve installed energy-efficient long-day lighting.

The farm has incorporated a global positioning system (GPS) to help identify cropping efficiencies while reducing fuel, pesticide and fertilizer use on its 3,600 acres of crops. The beacon and data management tracking software tracks and evaluates time requirements for the entire planting, manure application, spraying and harvest program.

Being an early adopter of technology brings risk, and not everything has been immediately successful. The farm invested around $1.2 million in a nutrient concentration system promising to remove about 50 percent of the water from manure. While moving toward that goal, achieving it has proved challenging.

Crossbreedng program

Paying attention to costs and cash flow, Majestic Crossing Dairy aggressively targets a 20 percent return on all costs, although the dairy economy often makes that challenging. The farm tracks its progress monthly on a cash basis and then quarterly on an accrual basis. Prices are protected by contracting both grain and milk. Contracted milk sales saw an average return of 70 cents per hundredweight in 2018.

The success of these innovative practices is one of the reasons Majestic Crossing Dairy hosts tours of dairy producers, government officials and influencers, and consumers. They recognize that not every technology used at Majestic Crossing is suited for every dairy, but by avoiding being boxed in by traditional thinking, individual dairies can adapt sustainable technologies and practices of their own.

Supporting people and the community

One of Majestic Crossing’s goals – and advice to other dairy producers – is to modify and innovate to leave time to get and stay involved with friends, the community and the industry.

The farm encourages the owners and employees to take time for their families and community activities. Currently, Dean Strauss is a board member of the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection; serves on the executive board for the Dairy Farmers of Wisconsin; is financial secretary of his church; and serves on the township Farmland Preservation Committee.

As a supporter of the community, Majestic Crossing Dairy provides access to an indoor horse-riding facility for the clients of the REINS Program, a non-profit Wisconsin corporation committed to improving the lives of those with special needs through individually structured classes using therapeutic interactions with horses.

Editor's note: Dean Strauss died on Sunday Sept. 29, 2019  end mark

PHOTO 1: Dean Strauss

PHOTO 2: Herzog Farm

PHOTO 3: Crop management technologies and conservation practices combine to protect the environment while optimizing yields on Majestic Crossing Dairy’s 3,600 acres of cropland.

PHOTO 4: The goal of the crossbreeding program was to produce a smaller, more efficient cow, requiring less feed and producing less manure, that provided milk components best suited for the cheese market. Photos courtesy of the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy.

Previous articles in Progressive Dairyman:

February 2019
Robots bring beneficial cost savings to Majestic Crossing Dairy

February 2016
Majestic Crossing Dairy three-way cross captures profitability

Dave Natzke
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By the numbers

• 2,000: Number of milking cows in the Majestic Crossing Dairy herd. The genetic makeup involves a three-breed rotational cross – Holstein, Viking Red and Montbeliarde (ProCross) – to achieve a high-producing, efficient, smaller cow that eats less and generates less manure.

• 6/13/12: Cows are housed in six-row tunnel-ventilated barns; one milking facility has 13 Lely robots and the other a double-12 parlor.

• 45 million: Pounds of milk marketed in 2018, sold to Sartori. Cheese-yielding components averaged 4.1 percent butterfat and 3.4 percent protein; the somatic cell count runs between 120,000 and 135,000 cells per milliliter.

• 70 cents per hundredweight: average return over costs on contracted milk marketings in 2018.

• 22: Number of employees.

• 3,600: Acres of cropland, including about 1,500 acres of corn (75 percent harvested as silage), 1,000 acres of alfalfa, another 200 acres dedicated to wheat, and the remaining 800 acres planted to soybeans.

• 30 percent: Decline in water usage since installing the robotic milkers.

• $30,000 to $40,000: Savings in manure hauling and improved nutrient density with less water.

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