Often small dairies survive low milk prices through income streams outside of the milk check. This can come from taking advantage of any number of marketing niches. Dairies have been successful selling a branded product from milk made on the farm and composted manure, some have opened the farm up to events or embarked on other business ventures.
Jason Luttropp, with help from his parents Jerry and Phyllis, have found a niche by marketing cattle.
Their 55-head-Jersey-dairy located just north of Berlin, Wis. is owned by Jason. The herd started when Jerry bought Jason a Jersey heifer in the late 1990’s. She turned out to be a foundation for the current herd. In 2010 Jerry dispersed the family’s Brown Swiss herd and Jason started filling the tie stall barn with Jerseys. Today, Lost Elm Jerseys is a sought-after destination for producers looking for a great show heifer or top producing group of cows.
Building a herd of good looking cows that last a long time and produce high component milk gives the Luttropps the ability to merchandise quality cattle. Over the past four years Jason has sold 270 head from his small herd. More than 200 have been fresh cows sold shortly after they calved
The focus of the breeding program is simple. “We breed for type and components,” Jason says. It’s obvious that the focus on type has paid off. Herd classification results from this January show 41 cows scored Excellent and 14 scored Very Good, with no cows scored lower. The average score was 90.3.
LOTS OF HEIFERS
Jason is a heavy user of sexed semen, so nearly every animal on the farm has a heifer calf. Cows don’t get culled, either. “We have cows that last so we can keep selling young cows and heifers,” he says. Of the cows in the barn, 20% are more than 10-years-old.
“A couple of years ago when the milking herd hit 80 cows, we only sent two cows to beef,” Jerry says. “Normally our cull rate is about 5%.”
Cows are either sold through the Great Northern sale barn, through Jersey Marketing Service or in small groups to local producers. A few select animals are sold in consignment sales. But in the fall of 2018 Jason sold 100 head in a reduction sale after a key employee left.
WHICH ONES TO SELL?
Knowing which animals to sell and which to keep is critical. “To make the good ones you have to keep some of the good ones,” Jason says. “It’s hard to know where to draw the line.”
One of the animals that most exemplifies Lost Elm breeding is Lost Elm Tequila Petunia. In 2016 she was undefeated as a heifer at the Wisconsin Spring and State shows, World Dairy Expo and at the All-American Jersey show in Louisville. As a two year old she scored 88 points, and she just recenlty scored 91 points, which is the maximum allowed for her age.
Most of the heifers are sold private treaty to buyers looking to do well in the show ring. Jason has sold several to families looking for a good 4-H project, something that Jason says is gratifying to see when they do well.
“At World Dairy Expo in 2018 three of the animals pulled out for junior champion of the junior show carried our prefix,” Jason says. Each had been purchased or leased for as youth project heifers from the Lost Elm herd.
Prices for good cattle have taken a hit with the depressed milk prices, Jason says. “When milk was good a nice milk cow would go for $2,500,” he explains. “Now it’s more like $1,500.”
Still, merchandising has helped make the low milk prices easier to swallow.
“Milking cows pays the bills,” Jerry says. "Selling cows has kept us going."