By Ethan Giebel
Randy and Laura Orth's passion for Jersey cattle began in 1985 with the purchase of their first Jersey cow. The couple moved from Iowa to Lancaster in 1993 where they founded Orthridge Farms.
Orthridge has steadily expanded throughout the years from 60 cows to approximately 300 registered Jerseys in the milking herd.
Crops for their cattle are grown on 350 acres of owned and rented ground. All corn for grain and dry hay for the dairy cows is purchased. Ten part-time employees assist with the day-to-day operations on the farm. Employees on the farm hail from the area or are students from the nearby University of Wisconsin-Platteville or Southwest Technical College. Randy is the overall farm manager and is in charge of feed, finances and a host of other responsibilities on the farm. Laura manages the farm office, works with calf raising and is an independent consultant for The Pampered Chef. The four Orth children have also pitched in throughout the years on the farm to contribute to the farms growing success.
Susan is the oldest of the four Orth children; she works for World Dairy Expo as the Trade Show Manager. Their son Derek attended Utah State University's Dairy Herdsman Program and returned to Orthridge in 2005. He serves as the dairy herd manager on the farm and has started to purchase some of his own cattle and equipment. Derek's wife Charisse will graduate from UW-Platteville in December and works with Laura to care for calves on the farm. Daughter Dana recently returned from Zambia where she served in the Peace Corps. working on agricultural development projects. Julie is the youngest in the family and will graduate from UW-Madison in December with a degree in Community and Non-Profit Leadership with plans to work with youth in rural Wisconsin.
Dec. 18, 2008, marked the move in date for the farm's latest expansion of a freestall barn and parlor. A swing-12 parlor from Dairymaster has suited the farm well for milking, which occurs three times per day. The four-row freestall barn measures 100'x260' and includes 260 sand bedded stalls that range in measurement from 39"-44" to accommodate their cows. With a wealth of young stock on the farm, the old dairy facility is utilized to house heifers as well as a barn built specifically for heifers in 2005.
As herd manager, Derek has gained some unique skills that benefit the dairy herd. A Motorola Xoom tablet through Verizon is used to keep track of cow records which are stored online and can be accessed anywhere in the world with an Internet connection. Derek attended a hoof trimming school and trims all of the cow's hooves. He has also learned to implant embryos and has a 50% conception rate. 10% of the calves on the farm have come from implanted embryos. A recent addition to the operation was an ultrasound. It is used for pregnancy checks and can be used for finding twins and fetal sexing. "I would like to continue to steadily use the ultrasound more in the future," said Derek. "It has a variety of uses and can even ultrasound lungs in calves to determine their health and cow udders to examine mastitis issues."
Cows average 60 pounds of milk per day at 5% butterfat. Every seven months a Jersey cattle classifier comes to score the herd. Twenty-three cows in the herd have scored 90 Excellent or above including their top cow at 94 Excellent. The use of sexed semen in the herd has allowed for the sale of 100 heifers and 20 cows in 2013. The Jersey Marketing Service through the American Jersey Cattle Association is relied upon for marketing of Orthridge cattle.
"We use a variety of companies to find the right sires for our cows," said Derek. "For us, it is more important to buy from the bull and not just from the company." Polled genetics, longevity and components for production are the main focuses of the breeding program at Orthridge. With a tremendous herd of Jersey cattle, the Orth family has eight sires in AI service. Select Sires and Semex each offer three and Genex has two sires from the farm. Having sires in service gives Orthridge some notoriety in the Jersey breed and has been a beneficial endeavor for their operation.
In the future, they plan to continue to expand their genetic merchandising efforts by utilizing genomic testing, offering consignments in regional and national sales and placement of young bulls in AI programs.
Orthridge works in partnership with Berry College in Mt. Berry, Ga., to provide a summer internship for a student and has done so during three summers. Another future goal is the construction of a transition barn for fresh cows in order to better manage the milking herd.Giebel is a student at UW-Platteville.