2012 good year for Johnsons' dairy farm

PARKERSBURG, Iowa — Roy and Shiloh Johnson say that with good years in 2010 and 2011, things are going well on their Parkersburg dairy farm.

The couple and their children, Melanie, 11, and Megan, 10, farm with Roy’s parents, Carolyn and Duane.

Roy, 41, attended Ellsworth Community College and got his bachelor’s degree in agricultural business from Iowa State University. After college he came back home to farm.

"We had enough cows to keep us busy, and Mom and Dad didn’t mind growing," Roy said.

He and Shiloh met in 1993 and got married in 1996. They lived on a farm near Ackley for four years before moving a house to the Parkersburg farm.


Shiloh, 37, graduated from Allen School of Nursing in Waterloo in 1998, worked at Allen Hospital for six years and then got a job at Maple Manor Care Center in Aplington. She manages the facility’s assisted living unit.

"Because I work full-time, I don’t do any farm work unless Roy needs help moving hay or driving the pickup," Shiloh said.

"She takes care of the kids," Roy said with a grin.

That includes getting Megan to almost daily sports practices. She plays soccer, basketball, softball and flag football.

Melanie is more interested in the farm than sports.

"She’s my chore helper," Roy said. "She helps with the calves, does chicken chores and runs the skid loader."

Both girls are in 4-H, and Melanie especially likes showing cattle.

Carolyn and Duane started milking 20 head in 1982. By the mid-1990s, the herd was up to 65 cows.


"We had a little farm ground, but not enough to make two incomes," Roy said. "We put our heads together with our banker and starting working on a plan to grow from 60 to 100 head."

The Johnsons moved into a new 98-stall free-stall barn in 2000.

"We bought some cows and were milking 100 head," Roy said. "We’ve had some ups and downs. We had a few health issues with the cows. Dad had some health issues, too. Nine dollar milk in 2002 and 2003, was rough. We got down to milking 75 to 80 head. But we had a new banker who worked with us, and we made things work."

Things improved.

"2009 was a rough year for everybody," Roy said. "2010 was not a bad year and 2011 was really good. We made good silage last fall and did a little ration changing to get more milk out of the cows."

They have added breeding chutes, made fencing changes and remodeled buildings to make it easier to handle cattle. In 2008 they put up a feed shed with bays for bulk feed.

They expanded the calf barn so that all calves are housed inside.

"The feed pails aren’t out in the snow and rain," Roy said. "Unless it’s extremely cold, we can get things cleaned and disinfected with no problem. We probably use half the bedding that we did in calf huts."


They’ve worked ethanol byproducts into their total mixed ration. They feed corn stalk bales and wet gluten to young stock, and cows and heifers get dried distillers.

The Johnsons grow corn on 112 acres, chopping 75 percent for silage.

"We buy the rest of our feed," Roy said.

They milk 100 cows, mostly Holsteins with a few Brown Swiss.

"The last five years we’ve been able to sell a few extra springing heifers," Roy said.

They’ve lowered their cull rate to under 35 percent. Roy cares for baby calves and has kept the death rate down to 3 percent to 5 percent or less. The herd’s somatic cell count is less than 150,000, which brings a premium from Swiss Valley Farms.

Roy and Shiloh bought half the cows from Duane and Carolyn in 2010 and now farm in a 50/50 partnership.

The Johnsons milk in a double-four herringbone parlor that Duane and Carolyn built in 1988. They were milking 35 cows, and it cut milking time to an hour.


They still use the same parlor. Milking now takes a little over four hours, two times each day. They milk in two groups of 50.

"That’s way too long, but the parlor’s there and we’re making it work," Roy said. "There’s no way to expand in the old barn without spending a lot of money, which we can’t afford to do right now. Maybe in four to seven years, we’ll be able to look at a new parlor and holding pen."

They employ one part-time worker and temporarily have another part-timer while Duane recuperates from surgery.

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