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NexGen dairy in Minnesota lets cows be cows for the future

Eden Valley dairy farm uses technology to aid in herd health.

Kevin Schulz, Editor

May 15, 2024

5 Min Read
Vern Becker and Megan Schrupp
NEXT GENERATION: Vern Becker and Megan Schrupp, father and daughter, have been working together on their dairy. Megan and her husband, Tim, are in the process of taking over the NexGen Dairy. Kevin Schulz

Megan Schrupp and the team at NexGen Dairy are building for longevity, and she says a big piece of that puzzle is getting the most out of the cows.

Kevin Schulz - Jersey cows on a dairy farm

“We milk Jersey and Jersey-cross cows and our goal is milk mature Jersey cows,” she says of her family’s dairy farm operation near Eden Valley, Minn., “so we need to do what we can to get maximum health out of our cows.”

She says they are close to achieving the farm’s goal of three lactations on average, but she adds that milking old cows wasn’t an initial goal. “I think we were thinking about calf health, so that our heifers calving were healthy,” she says. “Then, we’re thinking about fresh cows and that transition period, making sure that is optimal, how they’re going through that as best they can. All of those things build to keeping cows in lactation longer — and then also focusing on genetics.”

Replacement heifer costs are huge for a dairy, and as Schrupp puts it, “Old cows are paid for.”

Back in the day, Schrupp’s father, Vern Becker, and his brother Joe Becker milked Holsteins, but since 2016 Jerseys have been the breed of choice. Joe Becker still milks Holsteins at his farm.

A walk through the NexGen barns is proof of the emphasis on milking older cows, as a few Holsteins remain in the productive herd.

“We have one everyone calls ‘Grammy’ — she’s 13,” Schrupp says. “She’s still producing, always breeds back on first service and has good calves.”

Kevin Schulz - Dairy cows in a milking parlor

She says traditional industry thinking is a push for genomics and heifers, “but there’s something to be said about old cows like that, a cow that’s still here at 13. Why is that cow still here and everybody else has left? I’d like heifers out of that cow.”

Transition to Jerseys

Despite the Holstein history on the farm, Vern has no qualms that the barns are now filled mostly with Jerseys.

“They’re a lot better cow than the Holsteins,” he says. “When you look at fat-corrected milk for pounds of protein and butterfat, you’re not that far percentagewise behind a Holstein cow, but just look at the size difference. There’s 1,800 pounds of weight on four feet [with a Holstein] versus 1,200 pounds [with Jerseys]. That’s a big difference.”

NexGen milk is shipped to First District Association in Litchfield where it is processed into cheddar cheese, thus putting a higher premium on producing milk components rather than just a large quantity of gallons of milk.

Schrupp also likes the Jersey demeanor, joking, “It’s like milking cats.”

Another reason the farm transitioned to Jerseys is tied to the size of the animals. “The parlor is 24 years old, and the modern Holstein will not fit in the stanchions,” she says, so rather than modifying the facilities, they changed breeds.

Kevin Schulz - Jersey calves in a barn

NexGen now milks 1,200 cows three times a day in a double-16 parlor.

Tech for replacements

Recognizing the cost of replacement heifers for such a large dairy, the NexGen team uses technology to help along that path with the advent of sexed semen, “About a quarter of my semen is sexed semen, so I know exactly how many heifers I want,” Schrupp says.

The Ho-Jos [Holstein-Jersey crosses] are terminal cross cows, “so we will milk them, but they will all be bred to beef. We won’t sell the Ho-Jos, but rather their calves, which are beef crosses out of the Ho-Jos,” she says.

In addition to sexed semen, NexGen employs technology from Nedap, where each cow wears a collar that tracks eating time, inactive time and rumination, with the ability to add a position tracking component down the road. “Tech coming would allow you to see where the cows are in the barn,” Schrupp says, saving the 13 NexGen employees time when it comes to locating a cow if she didn’t show for milking.

Even with the technology tracking each cow’s activity, Schrupp and Becker still lean on the human factor. “Our goal is to let cows be cows, and we really try to not go into the pens,” she says, “But, we will go in the pens for a walk-through because the computer doesn’t always find every cow that needs to be caught. There are a lot of things that can be learned by just going in and looking at them.”

All in-house

Just as all replacement heifers are born and raised on-site, Schrupp and Becker try to have a self-contained operation. Vern Becker is a trained nutritionist, Schrupp was in private veterinary practice until 2013 and Tim Schrupp worked construction until he joined the family operation. Megan’s sister, Ellen Stenger, is involved in the operation performing bookkeeping duties.

Courtesy of Megan Schrupp - An aeiral view of a diary farm

“We try to do everything in-house as much as possible,” Megan says.

In addition to the dairy herd, NexGen operates 1,100 acres of corn for silage and alfalfa seeded with triticale that is harvested as haylage. “We buy ground corn, distillers grains and sweet corn silage,” Vern says.

NexGen Dairy is using the technology of today, blended with the experience of yesterday to ensure cow longevity gets the operation into the future.

About the Author(s)

Kevin Schulz

Editor, The Farmer

Kevin Schulz joined The Farmer as editor in January of 2023, after spending two years as senior staff writer for Dakota Farmer and Nebraska Farmer magazines. Prior to joining these two magazines, he spent six years in a similar capacity with National Hog Farmer. Prior to joining National Hog Farmer, Schulz spent a long career as the editor of The Land magazine, an agricultural-rural life publication based in Mankato, Minn.

During his tenure at The Land, the publication grew from covering 55 Minnesota counties to encompassing the entire state, as well as 30 counties in northern Iowa. Covering all facets of Minnesota and Iowa agriculture, Schulz was able to stay close to his roots as a southern Minnesota farm boy raised on a corn, soybean and hog finishing farm.

One particular area where he stayed close to his roots is working with the FFA organization.

Covering the FFA programs stayed near and dear to his heart, and he has been recognized for such coverage over the years. He has received the Minnesota FFA Communicator of the Year award, was honored with the Minnesota Honorary FFA Degree in 2014 and inducted into the Minnesota FFA Hall of Fame in 2018.

Schulz attended South Dakota State University, majoring in agricultural journalism. He was also a member of Alpha Gamma Rho fraternity and now belongs to its alumni organization.

His family continues to live on a southern Minnesota farm near where he grew up. He and his wife, Carol, have raised two daughters: Kristi, a 2014 University of Minnesota graduate who is married to Eric Van Otterloo and teaches at Mankato (Minn.) East High School, and Haley, a 2018 graduate of University of Wisconsin-River Falls. She is married to John Peake and teaches in Hayward, Wis. 

When not covering the agriculture industry on behalf of The Farmer's readers, Schulz enjoys spending time traveling with family, making it a quest to reach all 50 states — 47 so far — and three countries. He also enjoys reading, music, photography, playing basketball, and enjoying nature and campfires with friends and family.

[email protected]

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