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Cows at the dairy farm operated by Dean Strauss, with his family and other partners, have changed over the years. They started with Holsteins and gravitated to Jerseys for their milk’s value in cheesemaking and then moved to animals like this one derived from a three-way crossbreeding program.<br />

Cows at the dairy farm operated by Dean Strauss, with his family and other partners, have changed over the years. They started with Holsteins and gravitated to Jerseys for their milk’s value in cheesemaking and then moved to animals like this one derived from a three-way crossbreeding program.
Photo By Jan Shepel

Ag board tours Majestic Crossing Dairy

Sept. 19, 2013 | 0 comments


The traditional red barn farm with its 52 stalls is just a stone’s throw away from the new freestall dairy where Dean Strauss provided a tour for members of the ag board last week.

When he was growing up his family "was a big believer in switching cows" he said with a smile. "I don’t remember milking 50 cows."

His dad still lives at that farmstead across the country road from the new operation. The dairy had grown to 120-140 cows with the addition of a small freestall barn but his dad wondered what would wear out first, the stanchions or his knees.

When Dean got out of college in 1993 he went into dairy consulting work but a few years later he came back home and the family began using a flat barn parlor for milking anywhere from 250-270 cows.

With a creek running right behind the farmstead the Strausses began wondering if it was environmentally the right thing to do to expand in that location.

They decided to build new on top of the hill across the road, breaking ground in June 1998, just in time to catch a nine-inch rainfall in August, he recalled ruefully.

Since that time the farm has grown its herd and added to its facilities. They started with the herd they brought over from the home farm and then added new animals, upping the herd count to 550, then 650.

They then hovered around 700, unsure if they wanted to go into the size herd that would put them under added regulation as a confined animal feeding operation (CAFO.)

"Then in 2009 the economy tanked and we decided we would build and went over 900 cows. Construction companies were extremely eager for the business."

Adding to the decision was the fact that springing heifers had been selling for $2,500-$2,700 but when the economy crashed, they were going for $1,000, he said.

The Strausses also added several partners to the operation. Three partners up the road had their own dairy. One left and the other two partners joined with the Strausses. With the joining of Highland Crossing farm and Majestic Meadows, the joint operation became Majestic Crossing Dairy.

Their farming operation includes cows at two barns along with 3,000 acres of cropland in the area. There are 900 cows at one farm and 1,000 at the other.

While Dean is the managing partner in the farm, his brother Darren takes care of the animals and the people who work for them. Their dad is "still pretty involved" in the day-to-day operation of the farm too, he said.

Strauss, who just joined the policy board for the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection in May, said he feels strongly about showcasing their farm to visitors. As a milk supplier to Sartori, he often brings customers here to show them how the milk is made.

As a larger operation in an urbanizing area, Strauss said there is a tradeoff. They have to deal with heavy traffic at times "but I can get a pizza delivered here. You don’t get that everywhere.

"There is a lot of traffic, but most people here are supportive of farmers."

He said that as the person responsible for the financial well-being of his partners, he feels a little more stress. "If I make a bad decision, it’s going to affect the other families that are involved. You’ve got to watch the bottom line as volatile as feed prices have been."

There are four core families involved in the business and the farm has 25 employees, including all the family members who work there.

With his dad and his brother and a stable of good equipment, they believe in doing much of the cropping work and manure hauling themselves. But they don’t raise young stock.

"We’re set up to milk cows and we want to maximize the capacity as much as possible. Land is another issue. Heifers wouldn’t get done here."

Calves go to a commercial grower, though the farm retains ownership. At a certain age they move on to a heifer raiser until they come back to the farm.

At Majestic Crossing cows are milked three times a day. A few years back they decided that being in the cheese business dictated a change of breed and they bred all their cows to Jersey sires.

They liked the hybrid vigor but ran into the fact that "Jersey bull calves aren’t worth much – or anything," he said.

Then on a visit to a dairy out West, he saw Swedish Red crossbred animals and fell in love with them. Today, the farm utilizes a crossbreeding program with Swedish Red, Montbelliard and Holstein. "It’s been a good move for us and the cheesemakers love it."

These cows "take care of themselves" and are of a moderate, efficient size, he said. They are not fed any supplemental fat or roasted soybeans.

The herd produces fat levels of 3.9-4.1 percent and averages 3.3 percent protein all year long with a 120,000 cell count. The cows average 73-74 pounds of daily production.

Cows are grouped in the big freestall barn where a tunnel ventilation system – 40 52-inch fans installed at one end of the barn – keeps the air fresh. The fans were added in 2009 when the barn was expanded.

"We love it. It minimizes flies really well." The overhead fans and sprinklers in the barn haven’t been used since the tunnel ventilation was added.

Though the hilltop barn is only seven miles from Lake Michigan, the side curtains are not generally open; keeping them closed allows the tunnel ventilation system to be most efficient.

Not that he had any objection to it, but the farm hasn’t used bST for several years as part of the requirement from Sartori, he said.

As part of the farm’s CAFO requirements, the farm installed a leachate containment system that Strauss showed to the board members. It catches the leachate from their bunker silos and filters it through a system of screens and a grassy catch basin. Any material that’s heavier is caught up above so it can be scraped away.

"It helps teach the feed handlers to be clean," he said.

Strauss said they were one of the first farms in the county to seek animal welfare audits through Validus, a third party. "They come in and spend a day or more looking at how employees handle cattle and all of the other things we do on the farm.

"We’re very proud to have been at the forefront of that."

Tail docking, he believes, is on its way out as animal welfare auditing becomes more commonplace on farms. Though they still have some animals with docked tails, they stopped doing it themselves a couple of years ago.

The ag board toured the Strauss farm ahead of its meeting in Sheboygan on Sept. 10.

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