Beginning Dairy Farm Models

Larry Tranel, dairy field specialist

To encourage and equip young, beginning and small dairy producers with the skills, knowledge, resources and aspirations to enter into a dairy operation through sharemilking or rent/buy feed arrangements.

Many activities were employed to build a program around beginning dairy producers.

The first program activity was the development of software tools, which included Excel spreadsheets developed in 2002. These included Dairy CALC for determining dry matter needs relative to herd size and crop acreage available; Dairy TRANS for budgeting and profit analysis of Model Farms and the beginning producer; SHAREMILK for determining fair returns to both the Sharemilker and the Owner; and TRANS FLOW for determining monthly cash flow needs. A publication entitled “Sharemilking in the Midwest” was also authored by this extension educator, but was reviewed with assistance from several Midwestern states and New Zealand. This software, mainly DAIRY TRANS was presented to over 500 producers and lenders in the past three years.

The second program activity was the development of a Model Farm Database, which included five beginning farmers who modeled this extension educator’s design for building a profitable dairy. This Model Dairy Farm Database, and the above accompanying software, is being used as this extension educator presents classes in the Wisconsin School for Beginning Dairy Producers and the ISU Extension School for Beginning and Transitioning Dairy Producers. The latter was created and is organized by this extension educator. This Model Dairy Farm Database has also been presented at the Upper Midwest Grazing Conference, the Wisconsin Grazing Conference, Iowa Dairy Days 2004, The Eastern Iowa Dairy Conference and the Wisconsin Dairy Summit in 2003-04.

The third program activity developed was the use of radio and newspaper to solicit interest and share impact statements from producers using Extension resources in getting started. Building aspirations in potential participants at parlor tours, pasture walks, or other meetings is also used.

The fourth program activity was the creation of the ISU Extension School for Beginning and Transitioning Dairy Producers, a pilot project in Dubuque County that drew participants from four states.

The fifth program activity was the development of a mentoring system where beginning farmers were paired up with one of the model farm producers to assist with management advice.

The sixth program activity was the creation of a low-cost dairy parlor and facility tours.

The seventh program activity was the implementation of “Farm Couple Getaways” as a means to goal-set, transition and simply help young couples “stay” in farming. Since many couples come looking for alternatives, the model beginning dairy farmer is often an option.

Teaching Methods:
A variety of teaching methods were used: individual consultations with prospective producers, six-session workshops, pasture walks and facility tours, newspaper articles and radio segments along with newsletter development and fact sheets, software, and publications. In addition, larger, multi-state conferences and seminars were used to make this a more regional effort.

Dan Pfab, Beginning Dairy Producer, Bernard, IA: “I probably would not have had the inspiration to get started dairying without the assistance I received from ISU Extension through Larry Tranel, Dairy Field Specialist in Dubuque. Larry not only taught me how to put an operation together financially, but was there every step of the way over the past three years in answering my weekly questions and putting me in touch with other producers with common issues from other perspectives.”

Pat Brehm, Dairy Producer, Peosta, IA: “Larry Tranel has helped me better understand my operation… He not only encourages me to make profitable changes, but helps us to understand the personal and financial implications of the change as well. He is extremely helpful, practical and hands-on at what he does. I’ve attended his classes for Beginning Dairy Farmers, Pasture Walks, and Low-Cost Parlor Tours and they were very informative and well done. I like the way he brings producers together to discuss ways to make more profit. He’s really in it for us small farmers.”

One anonymous participant of the ISU Extension School for Beginning and Transitioning Dairy Producers wrote, “This was a great experience for me. It was very informative and I learned so much invaluable information. Every session was great and very inspiring.”

A subset of 47 of 98 participants, attending the Upper Midwest Grazing Conference, returned a post-pre survey that their knowledge of “Developing a Profitable Dairy Grazing Model” as presented by this field specialist was increased by (28.2%) on a scale from 1 to 10.
Prospective dairy producers were asked to evaluate the ISU Extension School for Beginning and Transitioning Dairy Producers. The question was as follows; “have the sessions encouraged and inspired you to pursue or continue to pursue a dairy farming career?” Seven out of eight (87.5%) answered yes; the other participant was still undecided.
All six sessions of the ISU Extension School for Beginning and Transitioning Dairy Producers were rated “excellent” (71%) or "good" (29%). This extension educator taught 40 percent of the classes.
Seventy-five agricultural lenders received a post-pre survey to measure their increase in knowledge of the Dairy TRANS software program using a young grazing dairy operation as an example. On a scale of 1 to 10, their level of knowledge was increased by 5.6 points.
One hundred and fifty beginning and transitioning dairy producers attended a Model Beginning Dairy Producer session at the Wisconsin Grazing Conference. Surveys rated the presentation 4.5 on a scale of 1-5 with 5 being Excellent.

The Beginning Dairy Producer programs seek to instill knowledge, skills, resources, and aspirations for young producers wanting to get started and mentor producers wanting to help them succeed. Potential dairy producers have gotten their career started thanks to their involvement with the beginning farmer model educational programs.

As a result of the Model Dairy Farm, over 360 producers and advisors have increased their knowledge of the practices and profits dairying. Thirty small dairy operations have transitioned to grazing and/or low cost parlors as a direct or indirect result of this field specialist beginning dairy producer program. Twelve young dairy producers continue to use the Dairy TRANS software program to evaluate annual profits on their operation.
Three feature news articles were written exemplifying ISU Extension’s involvement with getting young beginning dairy producers started and/or assisting a young producer transition to a more profitable system through use of Extension’s software resources, management intensive grazing, and/or low cost facilities.
Over 1,000 participants have attended the low-cost parlor and facility tours since March of 2001, and the pasture walks likewise. These events were pivotal in developing the whole program as the model dairy farms were designed using the concepts of management intensive grazing and low-cost facilities. The Sharemilking in the Midwest Publication has been distributed in nine states and the Canadian Distribution of “Sharemilking in the Midwest” has been impressive with over 1,100 copies distributed in 14 states and Canada.
The farm couple getaways have been attended by more than 40 farm couples, over one-third of which were less than 35 years old and struggling to find their dream in farming. All young farm couples have since gone forward implementing their farming goals and dreams set at the “getaway”.

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