Invest in good genetics, focus on production, producers say

CALMAR, Iowa - Brian and Heidi Lantzky of Hawkeye said the wisest things they did when they started their dairy operation were to invest in genetics and listen to other people.

Farmers Jerome Fulsaas, left, Pat Darrington and Jeremy Peake share how they started farming at the recent Midwest Dairy School for Generational Transfer at the Dairy Center at Calmar. Nate Gebel, right, instructor at Northeast Iowa Community College, moderated the panel.

CALMAR, Iowa - Brian and Heidi Lantzky of Hawkeye said the wisest things they did when they started their dairy operation were to invest in genetics and listen to other people.

"We purchased good genetics to build the dairy on," Brian said adding that they also listened to other producers and gain knowledge where ever they could.

The Lantzkys joined Garnvillo dairy farmer Mark Bischoff and Lansing dairy farmer Tom Gavin on a panel to share how they started farming at last week's Midwest Dairy School for Generational Transfer offered at the Dairy Center at Calmar.

The Lantzkys said that they hire young people on a part-time basis, and they devote time to training them on proper procedures. They have created a good work force by taking an interest in each employee, giving them a chance to learn the ropes and being flexible with scheduling.

"We pay $3 per hour extra on weekend mornings and holidays, and we have no trouble getting kids to work those hours," Heidi said.


Bischoff said that when he started dairy farming he was able to purchase the herd that he had been managing since he was in high school. He worked for a neighbor who decided to quit dairying.

"I knew what I was getting," Bischoff said. "He had been 100 percent AI for a long time."

Bischoff also bought 10 to 12 cows. He didn't buy any heifers.

"You have to look at what makes you the most money," Bischoff said. "For me, it was to go for production, Genetically I knew the cows had it in them. When I started the herd had a 16,000 pound rolling herd average, and I've been as high as 26,500. Right now I'm at 25,500 pounds. My goal was to improve 1,000 pounds per year. The third or fourth year I had a lot of heifers coming on and I added a TMR and I went up 3,500 pounds."

Bischoff said a beginning farmer also has to watch costs and prioritize how to buy things.

"You have to constantly look at options that will make you more profitable," he said.

Gavin, who is working into his family's Lansing operation, said that he started buying cows in high school and college to help fill the herd.

"My dad and uncle paid me a percentage of their milk up until last year when my dad started turning over his part of the herd to me," Gavin said.


Gavin, who is the fifth generation on his family's farm, said his father and uncle have let him have a part in deciding how to construct new buildings.

"They let me say what I wanted," he said. "I think they felt if I was the one who was going to be here 50 years from now I should have a role in deciding. I'm lucky that way."

Working on his family's farm, Gavin said he has always known that what he does today will reflect what the herd will be like in the future.

"I'm there for the long run, and I want to do the best I can to make the farm better so that my kids will have something I can turn over to them like my dad did for me," Gavin said.

All three producers said that high land prices and competing for rented ground with the Conservation Reserve Program present a challenge.

They also agree that dairy producers have a role in educating the public about dairy farming.

Heidi Lantzky said that they take the time to explain why they do what they do in managing their dairy to their high school-age employees who often don't have a farm background.

"They share their experiences with their friends," she said.


"With Facebook and Twitter, we need to take the time to show the public the care that we give to our animals," Brian said.

"Everyone has to be ready and play a role," said Bischoff, who participated in a Holstein Foundation young leaders program. The Lantzkys were involved in a leadership program through the National Milk Producers Federation.

Farmers Pat Darrington, Jeremy Peake and Jerome Fulsaas also shared how they started their operations as part of a second panel.

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