Dakota Farmer

Family dairy’s expansion is lured by Agropur’s need for cows.

Kevin Schulz, Editor

August 25, 2022

4 Min Read
Jersey cattle on farm
COMING TO MARKET: Brant Bosma says his family decided to expand their Jersey dairy operation to South Dakota from Washington and Oregon. A factor moving to the state was Agropur’s cheese plant expansion in Lake Norden, S.D.Richard Clark/Getty Images

Ensuring a market for your end product can be tough for any farmer, so a Pacific Northwest dairy family decided to bring their cows to market in South Dakota.

With established dairies in Washington and Oregon, the Bosma family was looking to expand elsewhere. The family started prospecting for potential sites near Sioux City, Iowa, where Brant Bosma attended Dordt University.

Bosma eventually walked away with a bachelor’s in business administration, as well as a new site for their Jersey dairy operation two hours away from Sioux City in Madison, S.D.

Jersey cows in barn at feeders
JERSEY, SURE: The family switched from Holstein cows to Jerseys due to less feed intake resulting in less manure output, as well as milk components more favorable for cheese production.

The new enterprise, Orland Ridge Dairy, moved into Madison two years ago to take advantage of an expansion by the Agropur cheese plant in Lake Norden, S.D. Completed in 2019, Agropur tripled its cheese output to 9 million pounds a day and needed more milk production.

Robotic milkers

Orland Ridge uses 24 Lely robotic milkers. Its 1,600 Jerseys are milked by three milkers per cow pen. Currently, cows spend about 7 minutes and 12 seconds “in the box,” but the aim is to get that down to 6.5 minutes.

Lely robotic milker attached to cow
ROBOTIC TOUCH: Cows at Orland Ridge Dairy are milked by Lely robotic milkers. First ,the unit scrubs each teat on the udder clean before attaching a milking unit.

“That would allow us to add three or four more cows per robot to make it more efficient,” Bosma says. Each pen has capacity for about 200 cows, but currently Orland Ridge has 170 to 185 cows in each pen. He says another 24 robotic milkers should be in operation by fall.

Each cow has a radio frequency identification ear tag. Through the RID tag, a cow is admitted into the milking box and its production is monitored for a 24-hour period.

Cows are fed silage throughout the day, along with pelletized feedstuff while milking. Experienced cows learn they get the extra feed when they milk, so they will attempt to trick the system. However, those cows will be “kicked out” if they try to enter too often between milkings, or if they’ve already fulfilled their expected daily milk production.

“We want these girls to get milked often,” Bosma says, “but we want healthy milkings. We don’t want them going in there 20 times a day, because that’s hard on them. We want them to be full when they come in.”

The RFID tags also provide data on a cow’s health, time spent eating and other habits, such as rumination minutes — “how much time they spend lying down, ruminating,” Bosma says.

The information also can tell when a cow is in heat. “When she’s in heat, she’s going to stop eating; she’s going to be running around a lot,” he says. Spikes such as that will tell the computer to put that cow on a “heat list,” so the next time she enters for milking, she will be routed for further observation.

Likewise, if a cow spends too much time lying around, the computer will alert barn staff to check that cow for abscesses or lameness.

The data allows for monitoring cows without physically handling them. Bosma says the crew strives to have as little contact as possible, only handling when absolutely necessary.

Cow comfort

The cows are housed in a cross-ventilated barn, with curtains and fans automatically controlled to maintain a comfortable environment for the cows yearlong.

Keeping cows cool during a hot and humid South Dakota summer is just as important as keeping them warm during harsh winters. Bosma says it’s also necessary to keep the barns at 32 degrees F to ensure the robotic milkers will continue to operate.

On a warm day, curtains are left wide open and the fans run at full speed. Baffles over the cows help with airflow, pushing “air down over the cows’ backs as they’re lying in the beds,” he says.

Labor squeeze

Though Agropur’s expansion lured Bosma’s family to look at expanding its dairy from the West Coast to South Dakota, Bosma says other aspects of the move, such as finding labor, have been equally satisfying.

“We brought two or three people with us from Washington because we weren’t sure just how much labor we’d be able to find here,” he says, adding that the rest of the dairy’s staff was hired from the Madison area. “They were already living there and had housing, so it’s worked out really great.”

Orland Ridge now employs 11, including Bosma, to oversee the 1,600 cows that produce about 90,000 pounds of milk each day. He foresees having to hire a couple more employees once the new robotic milkers are added to the lineup.

Despite the success Bosma had in staffing his dairy, he admits finding labor can be tough, and the current situation is a reason for the robotic milkers.

“If we would have built 10 years ago, I probably wouldn’t have robotic [milkers]. But because of when we built, robots made the most sense to us,” he says. “It’s hard to find people to do this kind of work and so the robots are here every day. We take care of them to take care of us.”

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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