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Pennsylvania dairy restructures the 365-day farming method through seasonal grazing

Progressive Dairy Editorial Intern Courtney Moser Published on 27 November 2019
Cows at both farm locations of Moyers Rolling Green Acres rotationally graze.

When thinking about the typical work of dairy farmers, the number 365 comes to mind – 365 days of milking cows, feeding cattle, growing crops, raising calves and heifers – the list of work to complete spans every day of the year, and year after year, with few to no stops.

The team at Moyers Rolling Green Acres LLC of Pennsylvania has a different idea of the 365-day structure, which includes a stop in milking. Rich and Shelby Holsopple, Shelby’s father, Glenn Moyer; and her brother, Matt Moyer, operate their farm as a seasonal grazing dairy.

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Glenn and Evelyn Moyer are born-and-raised dairy farmers and are proud to have raised their children in a similar way.

With two farm locations – one in Friedens and the other in Manns Choice, Pennsylvania – the Holsopples and Moyers milk 675 cows, raise 400 heifers and care for 1,400 acres of farmland collectively. The family is able to work in cooperation with the Maryland and Virginia Milk Producers Cooperative to ship their milk on a seasonal rotation which restructures the layout of a year and provides six weeks to two months of no milking.

On Shelby’s home farm in Friedens, she and her husband, Rich, manage 245 milking cows using a 14-unit swing parlor. Glenn and Matt care for the additional 430 cows in a 40-cow rotary. Although divided by 25 miles, the two farms follow one schedule.

Matt Moyer operates the farm in Manns Choice along with his family. From left to right: Reece, Anna, Jenny, Matt and Ethan Moyer.

Seasonal grazing structure

The breeding cycle begins with turning out home-raised, crossbred bulls with yearlings and cows on June 1 to aim for calving around March 7. Generally, the breeding window is kept open for 10 weeks. Beyond that point, any animals not bred are sold as short-bred in the fall or culled. Cows checked pregnant are dried off between Jan. 10 and Jan. 12 and out-wintered. This allows the Holsopples and Moyers to hit “pause” on milking until calving season commences in early March.

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The farm in Manns Choice is primarily cared for by Glenn and Matt Moyer.

In the period where no milking occurs, Rich says they are able to simply focus on feeding the dry cows while working on projects. While he says it’s a nice break for the family and allows them to avoid the coldest weather conditions, there is a deeper meaning behind their version of 365 days.

With peak hay production in May, the team uses this calendar structure to match top performance in the barns with that of the fields. “We are trying to coincide our peak production with our peak nutritional needs by having the best forage and production combination,” Glenn says.

Shared responsibility

In addition to both farms following the seasonal structure, hay-making is also a shared activity, with Glenn taking the lead on field work at both locations. On average, the growing seasons at the farms have a two-week difference to aid in the rotation of field work. Animals rotationally graze, and milk cows receive new grass every milking. Beyond eating pasture or hay, cows are fed a one-shot high-fiber 14% complete feed in the parlor while being milked. Rich says that makes up about 50% of the dry matter intake (DMI) and helps balance the hay.

Group raising calves and yearlings is another shared chore for the Holsopples and Moyers. In Friedens, Shelby raises the calves until weaning. Then the spring calves are moved to Manns Choice to be cared for by Matt in the summer. Meanwhile, Rich raises yearlings back in Friedens. Once yearlings calve, they stay at their respective farm for the remainder of their lives.

Calves gather around a milk bar for feeding.

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Farm growth and family extension

The transition to where Moyers Rolling Green Acres is today has been ever-changing and growing. Glenn and his wife, Evelyn, were both born and raised on dairy farms. In 1975, they purchased his parents’ farm and began dairying on their own. Six years later, the Moyers sold Glenn’s home farm and moved to the farm in Friedens, where Shelby and Rich continue to raise their family.

After moving, interest rates heightened in the ’80s and created a farming financial crisis for many in the industry. At that time, the Moyers were encouraged by mentors to give grazing a try. They took the advice and started grazing in 1986 while other farms went out of business. Since 1995, they have operated under the fully seasonal grazing schedule.

Over those years, the Moyers experimented with milking various breeds of cattle, beginning with Holsteins. Glenn believed Jerseys may be a superior breed for grazing with perhaps a higher heat tolerance, so Jerseys were added to their herd in the late ’80s. Despite the change, Glenn says they didn’t see the results they wanted.

“We weren’t satisfied with either one of those, so we started crossbreeding in the early ’90s,” he says. Since then, five or six different breeds have been added to the mix. “It’s a little hard to identify what they are anymore since we’ve been crossbreeding for 26 years or so now,” Glenn says.

In addition to cattle breeds, the Moyers have transitioned among four locations. Through the changes, however, Glenn kept the farm in Friedens, which served the purpose of raising heifers for breeding while the others operated as milking facilities. In 2010, the opportunity came for Glenn and his son, Matt, to expand to two milking locations after land became available next to the home farm in Friedens.

Despite the fact Rich was never directly involved in the industry, he had exposure to a nearby dairy operation growing up, which sparked his interest in farming. He had a contracting business, but Shelby says, “Farming is something that Rich has always dreamed about; he’s thought about becoming part of the farm.” After much consideration and prayers, Shelby says she and Rich decided to seize the opportunity to milk cows in connection with her family and raise their own children on the dairy.

The Holsopples credit their family for the support over the years but also share their gratitude for the Young Cooperators Program through Maryland and Virginia Milk Producers Cooperative Association that provided them with various opportunities for growth in the industry. “We encourage other young producers to take advantage of this program,” Rich says. The Holsopples were named the co-op’s 2019 Outstanding Young Cooperators and hope to continue sharing their family’s agricultural story through the role.

Carrying on the family farm

Nearly 10 years after entering the family business, the Holsopples continue to be happy with their decision. Their three children – Sydney (18), Abby (15) and Carter (13) – each participate with farm work, especially in the spring. “During calving season, it’s all hands on deck,” Shelby says. Matt and his wife, Jenny, also have three younger children, Reece (14), Anna (11) and Ethan (9). Together, they make farming a family affair.

Shelby and Rich Holsopple have chosen to raise their three children on their dairy farm.

Glenn says he didn’t expect both Shelby and Matt would be involved on the farm, but says he’s happy they are. “I guess it’s every guy’s dream. Although it didn’t really have to be that way, I’m glad it is. It’s fun to work with your kids,” he says.

The family began discussing thoughts about the next generation and how they may take over the reins in the years ahead. For now, the family will continue providing exposure to the kids by allowing them to explore their family’s version of 365-day farm life: seasonal grazing. “It’s a great place for the kids to be and to grow up with a good environment,” Shelby says.  end mark

Courtney Moser was a 2019 Progressive Dairy editorial intern.

PHOTO 1: Cows at both farm locations of Moyers Rolling Green Acres rotationally graze. Photos provided by Rich Holsopple.

PHOTO 2: Glenn and Evelyn Moyer are born-and-raised dairy farmers and are proud to have raised their children in a similar way. 

PHOTO 3: Matt Moyer operates the farm in Manns Choice along with his family. From left to right: Reece, Anna, Jenny, Matt and Ethan Moyer. 

PHOTO 4: The farm in Manns Choice is primarily cared for by Glenn and Matt Moyer. 

PHOTO 6: Calves gather around a milk bar for feeding. 

PHOTO 5: Shelby and Rich Holsopple have chosen to raise their three children on their dairy farm. From left to right: Abby, Shelby, Carter, Rich and Sydney Holsopple. Photo provided by Daniela Roland of Maryland and Virginia Milk Producers Cooperative Association.

 

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