Hagemans keep dairy farming competitive with high-tech innovations

By Zach Jensen,

The Hageman family farm earned awards for the Sixth Top Farm and Most Improved Farm. Pictured l-r- Karla Schmitt, Ben Schmitt, Ruth Hageman, Alan Hageman, Scott Hageman. (submitted)

In 1978, national radio personality Paul Harvey spoke at the FFA National Convention in Kansas City, Mo., and since then, Harvey’s poem, entitled “So God Made a Farmer”, have been the motto of countless farmers across the nation, including Alan and Ruth Hageman of rural Decorah. 

“If you plan on being a dairy farmer,” Alan said. “You need to do it, because you want to not just think you will always be making money. There are many high periods and low periods with dairy farming. The mindset of any farmer needs to be as true as the famous Paul Harvey poem.”

“God said, ‘I need somebody willing to get up before dawn, milk cows, work all day in the fields, milk cows again, eat supper, then go to town and stay past midnight at a meeting of the school board’,” Harvey’s poem says. “So, God made a Farmer.”

The Hageman family farm earned awards for the Sixth Top Farm and Most Improved Farm during the Winneshiek County Dairy Banquet held earlier this spring.

“Awards are based on milk production records by each herd on a dairy testing program in the county,” said Ruth. “The tests calculate pounds of milk, cow and year produced, butterfat and protein content of milk of each cow.”

Ruth explained that the average of all a farmer’s cows’ data is compiled together to give the production average for each farm. The butterfat and protein ratios help determine which cows and herds are more efficient at producing milk for dairy product items like cheese, cream, butter or ice cream. 

Next, samples are obtained from each farm’s cows several times throughout the year. Most samples are sent to testing laboratories in Wisconsin, and those samples are then used to set the records for each cow and each individual farm. 

“Our farm won Most Improved Herd by improving overall average of our herd of cows by over 2,000 pounds from the previous year’s testing,” Ruth said. “Our Rolling Herd Average (RHA) was 26,772 in the year 2022 and was 28,777 in the year 2023. This was based on our total herd, including Holsteins and Guernseys.” 

County herd awards are placed using the Combined Fat Protein (CFP ratio) of each breed that is 10 percent above average for each breed of dairy cows in the state of Iowa. 

“Our Guernsey herd placed Sixth in the CFP ratio compared to all other breeds and herds in the county,” said Ruth. “Our Holstein herd was included in the herds with production over 10 percent above the state breed average.” 

Alan’s parents, Eugene and Patricia Hageman, started their dairy farm in 1955 with about 25 Guernsey and Milking Shorthorn. They were first milking by hand and quickly switched to a bucket system and also converted to all Holstein cattle. Ruth said that in 1968, the farm switched again to milking with a pipeline system. 

Eugene and Patricia’s peak herd size was 110 Holsteins in the late 1970s, and they then started a second herd on another farm in the early 1980s. 

Alan and Ruth took over the dairy farm in 1991, milking 75 cows. Alan started purchasing Registered Holsteins in 1981. Today, the herd mainly consists of Registered Holsteins and Registered Guernseys. Their daughter, Karla, returned Guernseys to the herd in 2007 as part of a 4-H project, and their son, Scott, added more Registered Holsteins to the herd also as 4-H project.

The Hagemans’ current herd size is approximately 150 lactating and non-lactating cows. Heifers are also raised on the farm, and bull calves/steers are on the feed lot until sold as finished steers. The total number of animals raised on the farms is around 450 head of cattle.

“All feed is raised off our own crop acres,” Alan said. “Feed is harvested by the family, with occasional help from friends as needed to process the chopped forages.” 

Scott farms full time with his parents, is actively involved in decision making, and he owns a portion of the cows. Karla owns and manages most of the Guernsey herd. 

Ruth and Alan agree that one of the biggest challenges faced by dairy farmers today is the markets; never knowing how much they’ll be paid for their milk.

“We have no voice in what price we will be paid,” Ruth said. “Price is determined a long way from the farm. The price paid in grocery stores does not reflect what the producer receives. The number of dairy farms keeps dropping every year throughout the country. Small dairy farms are disappearing, and farms with over 2,000 cows is becoming the normal. Dairy farms have labor issues just like any other business. Our inputs keep going up and price paid remains the same or less.”

To help maintain revenues, the Hagemans became the first robotic dairy in Winneshiek County and the fourth one in Iowa. 

“In 2011, we built a tunnel ventilated insulated ceiling free-stall barn and installed two Lely A3Next robots,” Alan said. “We previously milked in a tie-stall barn with a pipeline. The robotic system provides us with a large amount of information on each cow and the herd.” 

“We now use an Oricollector from France to obtain our milk samples for the DHIA milk sampling,” added Ruth. “It pulls the exact amount for each sample to be sent to the processing lab. “

Additionally, a dairy nutritionist visits the farm twice a month to sample, and forages and rations are made accordingly to feed supply on hand. Additionally, a herd health veterinarian visits the farm every two weeks, routine hoof care is scheduled, and all planting, forage and harvest systems and equipment are regularly updated.

“I always liked to help and milk cows from when I was a young child,” Alan reflected. “What I like most about it is being the first one to see a newborn calf – and knowing you are the first one to ever see this animal alive in this world.”

“I love watching a newborn calf become one of the milking cows in the herd two years later,” added Ruth. “It’s hard work, but I know most people couldn’t survive the dedication of this lifestyle. Long hours and the sometime-unexpected happenings – it takes a strong personality to succeed in this occupation.”

Read the entire Dairy Edition in the June 6 Public Opinion newspaper.

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