By Melanie Musselman, Published in Grass & Grain
Since 1955, Ohlde’s Dairy has provided fresh, wholesome milk from their mostly Holstein herd to the consumer. Ohlde’s Dairy is a third-generation Christian family-owned and operated dairy located near Linn in Washington County.
“Not many businesses have made it through three generations,” says Justin Ohlde, whose Grandpa Bob started the business with three Holstein cows from an FFA project. “Our family and employees show our affection and pride for what we do every day.”
Justin and wife, Becky, and one of Justin’s brothers, Kyler, partnered with their parents, Steve and Cindi, and grandparents Bob and Norma in 2007. While another of Justin’s brothers, Levi,
invested in the business just this year. Justin’s other brother, Weston, while not officially involved in the family business remains in the industry and helps out when needed. He is employed at Kansas Dairy Ingredients in Kansas City, Mo.
Justin is in charge of the business’ financials and risk management and assists Kyler with the daily operations of the dairy. Justin said even though they are in the business of animal agriculture and milk production, their business model has transitioned over the years from just taking care of the cows to taking care of their employees as well.
“The human resources aspect of our business is one of our top priorities. We have created a culture at Ohlde’s Dairy where team members can excel and improve. We milk a lot of cows and to keep it and the farming operation going; we have to employ the right people.”
Of the dairy’s 23 fulltime employees and six additional part-time, most are Hispanic.
“The cultural differences that exist between Americans and Hispanics are a challenge and rewarding all at the same time,” commented Justin. “The biggest challenge is the language barrier. We have found those that want to stay around and be a part of the community and are family-oriented.”
Justin has overcome this challenge by learning and communicating in Spanish with his employees. During the interview with Justin, on a couple of different occasions his Hispanic employees came into his office with a question and the conversation was in Spanish. Justin believes a generation of farm producers was lost in the farm crisis of the 1980s and that generation didn’t want to be involved in production agriculture. The Hispanic population has filled that void.
“Now there is a resurgence, in production agriculture and family farms,” said Justin. “If it wasn’t for the hard work of our employees, our business would not have been able to expand like we have and there would not have been room for three us boys in our family to come back to the family business.”
Over the dairy’s 61 years, the family has steadily increased their herd and expanded by adding new facilities. After starting with just three cows in 1955, the total increased to 25 by 1959 with a 200-gallon bulk tank and producing Grade B milk. In 1963, they doubled the size of the bulk tank to 400 gallons and a new milking parlor was built making them a Grade A dairy. When Justin’s parents, Steve and Cindi, joined the operation in 1980, they were milking 80 cows. By 1996, their herd size grew to 180. It was then the family decided to embark upon a major expansion. According to Ohlde’s Dairy blog, this decision had three major benefits.
“First, the benefit of volume pricing when selling milk by the semi-tanker load was cost-effective. Second, the farm would be large enough to warrant the hiring of employees. That meant the Ohlde family wouldn’t have to do all the farm chores themselves, making more time for the family. Third, the Ohldes wanted to have something to pass on to future generations-a family owned and operated business.”
Over the next three years, two free stall barns, two additional barns and a new milk parlor were built. In 2000, they were milking 500 cows, in 2010 that number rose to 850. Today, Ohlde’s dairy cow herd has reached1,150 and is still climbing. Their cows are mostly Holstein, but they also have Jerseys and crossbreds. They milk at 7 a.m., 3 p.m. and 11 p.m. and they can milk 32 cows at a time with 16 on each side. The dairy produces just under two semitractor trailer loads of milk per day which is about 100,000 lbs.
Bob says the most significant changes since he started the dairy in 1955 have been changes in consumer preferences from cream to milk and increases in technology. He credits his family for the dairy’s success and innovation.
“Not in my wildest dreams did I think we would be where we are at today,” says Bob. “If it weren’t for Steve and his boys, all this wouldn’t have happened.”
Along with the dairy, the Ohldes farm 1,600 acres where they raise all their own silage for the cows. Justin says they feed a product from Cargill called One Track. It includes dry distiller’s grains, corn gluten, soybean meal and mineral, explained Justin.
“This product has simplified our ration. It’s a good product for them and it’s been cost-effective for our operation.”
Their milking cows have three different rations: one for the newly freshened cows which is fed for 21 days, a high cow ration for the highest-milking cows and a low ration for the lower-lactating cows. Justin said their cows usually peak out at 5 to 6 years old. At that age, they cull them and sell them to through the local sale barn. They raise all their own heifers and add them to the herd. Justin noted his dad started artificially inseminating their dairy cows back in the 1970s and that aspect of the business has changed considerably as well. Ohlde’s Dairy semen comes from Alta Genetics.
“I remember back when we first started using AI procedures, it wasn’t frozen as it is today,” Bob remembered. “It came in small capsules and we had to slip it in ourselves.”
Ohlde’s utilize many best management practices to take care of their cows in the summer heat with fans, misters and foggers to keep them cool and comfortable. They have about five large fans per every 100 cows. These fans are mounted on the low ceiling of their cross vent barn to provide circulation and ventilation in both summer and winter.
“The cross vent barn is warmer in the winter and cooler in the summer compared to the outside temperature. Today, it was 6 degrees cooler than outside. Our goal is a 10-degree difference,” says Justin.
In the cross vent barn, cattle are not confined to their stalls and their feed is free choice. They use sand for bedding which provides their cows a cool and comfortable environment. Justin smiled while saying it’s like they are lying on the beach. Their stalls are cleaned out three times a day and the sand is replaced twice a week. Their cows are washed and groomed once a day. Justin says they have normal health issues, but since they’ve implemented the cross vent system in the barn, their cows’ overall health has improved.
Justin and wife, Becky, have the first Ohlde grandchild for Steve and Cindi and the second great-grandchild for Bob and Norma. He said their future goals for the dairy involve his daughter Reagan and the fourth generation. He said their long range plans are to double the size of the cross vent barn to the west so they can continue to increase their herd and milk more cows. Doubling the cross vent barn would give them another 68,000 square feet of barn space.
“I would like to keep growing and getting better in our operation,” Justin says. “I want to prepare this for my kids if they would like to continue the family tradition.”
As Ohlde’s Dairy mission statement says on their blog, “we are committed to preserving our natural resources, being profitable and helping the community we love.” They have reached out in their community by hosting about ten to twelve school group tours every year. They’ve also hosted an open house every other year for June Dairy month since 2010. This allows them to open their facility to their community and the public. This year’s open house was June 18 and it was their fifth event. The open house included both educational and recreational activities for all ages including tours of the dairy, a cow to milk, a selfie station, pools of corn and a barrel train providing rides for the younger children. Their agricultural equipment was on display as well such as the semi-tractor trailer truck which hauls their milk, and other agricultural equipment which produces the hay on the farm for the cows like the tractor, swather and chopper. A lunch of hot dogs and hamburgers were served along with ice cream and root beer floats to approximately 325 attendees.