South Dakota Greetings

January 15, 2009 06:00 PM

*Extend comments highlighted in blue.

Randy & Jennifer Gross
Elkton, S.D.
My wife, Jennifer, and I are the managing partners of Prairie Gold Dairy in Elkton, S.D., in the heart of the continually growing I-29 corridor.

We are one hour north of Sioux Falls and 15 minutes east of Brookings, S.D., home of South Dakota State University. I grew up on my family's small, dairy replacement heifer farm in Washington State. Jennifer was raised on a 100-cow dairy farm in central Wisconsin.

Following graduation from Washington State University, my career took me to California in the AI industry and then to Wisconsin as a herd manager. It was there that I met Jennifer when she came to work with the heifer portion of that dairy after attaining her degree at University of Wisconsin-River Falls.

This year marks Prairie Gold Dairy's fifth year of operation. It was built in 2004-2005, with our first milking occurring in April of '05. We milk 3,000 cows (3,600 on site with dry cows and springers) 3X in a double-50 parallel parlor, with 38 employees. Cows are housed in four-row sand-bedded free-stalls. We scrape to a flush flume and utilize a sand lane for sand recovery. This has worked extremely well for us. The sand remains clean and comfortable, and all but eliminates the need for additional purchases of sand.

All heifer calves are custom raised and leave the dairy daily, going to a nearby grower who utilizes waste milk from our hospital parlor (with a pasteurizer). At four months of age, they go to a grower we've worked with since starting the dairy and return to us four to six weeks prior to calving.

We feed a TMR ration primarily of corn silage, alfalfa hay, ground corn, corn gluten pellets, wet beet pulp, canola meal and cottonseed. We do not farm and purchase all of our feed ingredients, including forages. We have long-term agreements with neighboring crop farmers who grow corn silage that the dairy purchases, and in turn these farmers have the opportunity to apply our manure back on their land.

The major concerns in our industry are meaningful immigration reform and preserving technologies we use every day. Consumers know so little about how we produce milk and care for our cows that we risk future regulations that would actually reduce sound animal husbandry practices.

At this point, 2009 looks like it could be a challenging year for the dairy industry, but with challenge there often comes opportunity.

Grosses' November Prices  
Milk (3.66% bf, 3.01% prt): $16.69/cwt.
Cull cows: $38/cwt.
Springing heifers: $2,000/head
Dairy quality alfalfa $180/ton
Cottonseed (spot): $308/ton
Ground corn: $144/ton

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