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Young New Yorker builds up his dairy and his career

Alisa Anderson Published on 25 August 2009

Daniel Osborn's original intentions were just to build some equity and own some cattle.

Instead he became the co-owner and general manager at Ridgecrest Dairy LLC at just 24 years old.

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After graduating from Cornell University in 2004, Osborn came to the dairy as herd manager. He had met the dairy's owner, David Galton, at Cornell University where Galton is a full-time professor.

"This was the best opportunity for me coming out of college. The job here was pretty much open-ended," Osborn says.

Galton told him he could buy 30 heifers, that they would be expanding and that there'd be room for growth as he went. "That's what really attracted me to this," Osborn says.

Osborn started working for the dairy part-time while he was still in school. After he graduated, he started working full-time.

"I guess to Dave it was apparent that I could do more than just run herds," Osborn says. Two years into the job, Galton offered to let Osborn be a partner in the dairy.

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"I've always treated everything here like it was mine," Osborn says. "I just happened to be the guy that was at the right stage of my life and my career to step into it."

The dairy sits on 140 acres, 40 of which are pasture. It started with two three-row, tunnel-ventilated barns and 550 cows. After the first 18 months of Osborn's employment, they built a third barn and expanded to 1,200 cows. This past year they built a fourth barn and reached their capacity with 1,850 cows. They started with a double-12 parallel parlor and expanded to a double-20. Osborn continued to build up his cows there and now owns 300 that are part of the herd.

Galton and Osborn do the budgeting and the billing together, and Osborn does the day-to-day work at the dairy.

"We're pretty hands-off as far as cattle management goes. We're more about cow comfort and keeping the cows healthy and not having to work a lot with the cattle. For 1,850 cows, 180 wet calves and 650 heifers, we have 14 Hispanics, one other outside maintenance manager, and then myself, so 16 guys for the dairy," Osborn says.

They milk 3X per day, with an average of 79 pounds of milk per cow per day. This year they've sold about 2.7 million pounds of milk per worker. Osborn uses the pounds-per-worker metric to keep track of the labor efficiency of the dairy.

Osborn has included his brother, Nate, in the partnership. Nate Osborn graduated from Cornell in 2006 and came to Ridgecrest as a herd manager. He owns 150 cows at Ridgecrest but is currently managing another 650-cow dairy that Galton, Daniel and Nate Osborn are equal partners of.

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"We did the same thing with Nate that Dave did with me. He built up his cows here, all for the good of the dairy. If the dairy needs springers, we buy springers," Daniel Osborn says. "We all have an invested interest. The cows are not managed separately."

Galton and other faculty in the department of dairy science at Cornell University encourage students to own cows and earn equity, as Osborn and his brother have done.

"We encourage ownership and equity because we believe that over time, the only way to truly grow and develop is to be a part of a business or have ownership of a business because employees tend to outgrow the business and continue to move on. If you have ownership in the business and a stake in the business, your decision-making process is much different. Even though there is greater risk, there tends to be greater rewards and long-term fulfillment," says Michael Van Amburgh, professor of dairy science at Cornell.

Many Cornell students have followed this course and been successful. Tim Northrop, also a former student at Cornell, is one example. After graduating, he started from scratch and built up a herd that now numbers 350 and that he milks on rented facilities in western New York.

Another example from Cornell of working up from herdsman to part-owner is Will Samson. He started out as a herd manager with a dairy in Minnesota that allowed him to have some equity. He is now a part owner of a series of dairies.

"It's not for all of our students or for all of the dairy industry. A majority of our students don't end up in those positions, and that does not decrease their satisfaction working in the dairy industry. Those who have a long-term perspective and who want to own their own business someday, should start young and should start by gaining some ownership in some cows, and over time that gives you enough equity to leverage some more purchases," Van Amburgh says. PD

Alisa Anderson
Staff Writer
Progressive Dairyman

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