Published Sep 24, 2014

Field Day Recap: Organic Dairying and Cattle Care

By Sally Worley

Tim Maibach, sons Samuel and Daniel and wife Mary opened their farm to 25 curious folks Friday, September 5. This dairy family moved to rural Bloomfield Iowa from Ohio, where they also raised dairy cows, in 2005.

The family raises dairy cows on about 400 acres of pasture. They do not feed any grain and make their own forage. When necessary, they buy additional hay in winter to keep the cows fed. Milk is sold to Organic Dairy.

Samuel works on the farm full-time and owns 100 acres of his own land nearby. Daniel works on the farm part-time and owns 120 acres nearby. They do not have a partnership in place, but are talking about how the farm should be structured in the future and are open for suggestions. The Maibachs also have a daughter who lives nearby who raises dairy cows as well.

Tim believes southern Iowa is a good area for dairying. There is reliable demand for organic milk—Joe Klein of Organic Valley, who attended the field day, said Organic Valley is not able to keep up with demand—land is affordable in southern Iowa and there are a lot of farmers in the area who will retire soon. Tim thinks dairying poses a great opportunity for beginning farmers. Less land is needed than with some other farming enterprises, and overhead investments are also fewer.

Jim Sandy, a veterinarian from Corydon, spoke at the field day about his experience caring for Maibachs’ organic dairy cows. When there started to be a demand for organic veterinary care, he couldn’t find organic veterinary training in Iowa so went to an Organic Valley meeting in Viroqua, Wisconsin to receive training from Dr. Detloff. After having experience with and exposure to organically-raised livestock, Dr. Sandy has had a perspective change: He now believes organic animal husbandry is possible and feels he is more open to thinking outside of the box when caring for animals.Dr. Sandy is able to recommend organic treatments, and talked about some treatments and husbandry techniques he and the Maibachs have used to ensure healthy cows.

ISU Extension dairy field specialist Larry Tranel shared a recent study he conducted on profitability of organic dairy farms. The study data illustrates that organic dairying can be as or more profitable than grazing and conventional dairy systems. In the study, ten farms’ economic data were analyzed. Each farm was categorized as high profit, medium profit and low profit, and Larry explained averages and trends of each group. He said the two main correlations to profit identified by the study were labor and capital efficiencies. His study is available here.

After presentations in the barn, field day attendees went on a pasture walk, looking at multiple pastures and mixes, and discussing the health status of each one. The Maibachs have mixtures of annuals in some pastures, including oats, triticale, radish and rape, and have perennial forages in other pastures. It took five years for the Maibach family to nurture ground that was in CRP (Conservation Reserve Program) into productive pastures.

Attendees also looked at Maibach’s milking facilities. The facilities are set up for comfort and cleanliness. Life as a cow on the Maibach farm seems pretty idyllic! Extension agent Larry Tranel had some suggestions to improve the facilities to further comfort of the animals and access to hay. He has some publications about milking facilities available here and here.

The field day ended with a delicious snacks provided by Organic Valley and Mary Maibach. Thanks to the Maibachs for hosting and all who attended for making it an enjoyable day full of good conversation and community.