Michigan dairy farmers move operation to Missouri Ozarks - Mountain Grove News-Journal : Business

Michigan dairy farmers move operation to Missouri Ozarks

Posted: Thursday, June 26, 2014 10:44 am

John and Tammy Potts have traded dairying in southern Michigan for a location in eastern Texas County. John Potts is a fifth generation dairy farmer. They began dairying in Missouri in April. They purchased a 230 acre farm and are renting an additional 200 acres.

After John Potts’ father died they decided to sell the Michigan dairy and began looking for a new location. They considered other dairy regions including northern New York, Wisconsin and Minnesota. Among their reasons for choosing Missouri were area land prices and the warmer winter temperatures. John Potts indicated that in this area there was also a good selection of potential dairy properties. He also pointed out that the taxes are cheaper, the cost of living is better and it’s beautiful country.

The Potts pointed out that there are differences in dairying in this area compared to Michigan and they will have to adjust their operation to the area. He stated that when they were considering their current location he noticed that there was not a barn on the property to house the cattle. He laughs that the realtor selling the property suggested that he maybe should wait a while to build a barn.  Potts pointed out that dairy cows in Michigan are housed inside for at least a portion of the year when temperatures can drop to 40 degrees below zero. In Michigan, the Potts would house their cows inside from late fall to early spring, and many operations kept them inside much longer with some inside all year. The Michigan farmers many times take on the responsibility of clearing the county roads for the milk trucks, and that during the past winter some of the farmers more distant from the main roadways were unable to keep up with clearing the roadways and were simply forced to dump milk.

Another area that will be different is feed for the cattle. In Michigan they always grew their own and pasturing of  cows was limited, Potts stated. Many times in Michigan people milk cows as a way to use their crops, but here they seem to plan on dairying first and then figure out how to provide the feed, he stated. In Michigan they had an 80 acre field of pasture behind the barn and the cattle were turned out on to it and when it was gone they would green chop every day and feed the cattle.

Potts stated that he is planting 60 acres of Sudax, a sorghum-sudan grass cross, to be green chopped or baled.

The Potts also brought a portion of their younger cattle to Missouri. In Michigan hay is alfalfa and clover, and their cattle had never had grass hay. It did take a short period of time for the cattle to adapt.

The Potts also bought a portion of the dairy cattle that had been on the farm they purchased. Tammy Potts came down to Missouri with the Michigan cattle a few weeks before John arrived and started milking. The Michigan cattle were use to being milked in a stanchion style system where the milkers went to the cattle. These cattle had to get use to the double 5 parlor system in the Missouri barn where the cattle go to the milkers. But Tammy Potts explained that she mixed the Missouri and Michigan cattle together, and the Missouri cattle initially pushed the Michigan cattle in the right direction. John Potts pointed out that the stanchion system limited the number of cows the two of them could milk, but with the parlor and potential for expansion you can milk many more cattle. Currently they are milking 110 head, and in Michigan they milked about half that with the stanchion milking. The Potts have also added two employees to their operation, something they never did in Michigan. They are milking twice a day.

John Potts stated that some of the cattle also had trouble with the stones in the fields. They noticed that they were getting lame and were not sure why, until an area veterinarian determined that they were adjusting to the Missouri rocks. They were able to treat the cattle and they soon recovered. Tammy Potts pointed out that the cattle have to cross a gravel roadway to reach the milking barn and that the Michigan cattle hug the grass lined edge of the roadway until they get close to the barn and cross as quickly as they can.

The rocks also caused the Potts to leave a portion of their haying equipment in Michigan, because they did not feel it would be feasible to use on the Missouri fields with the potential of damage. They purchased replacement equipment in Missouri.

The Potts have always had primarily Holstein cattle, but bought some Jersey mix cattle from the farm they purchased.

Potts stated that the cattle are placed on a different field every day, and this is something they didn’t do in Michigan. When the grass ran out on the one field, the feeder wagons would  bring the feed to them.

John Potts did not feel the summer temperatures would affect the Michigan cattle. He explained that because of the lakes it would be just as hot and humid in Michigan, but that it might last longer in Missouri.

Another difference in their operation here will be in how they deal with the calves. In Michigan they kept the young stock either as replacements or they would finish them out between 1,200 and 1,800 pounds. Potts explained they could do that in Michigan because they had the crops to finish them. Here they still plan to keep the young stock for replacements, but the steer calves will be sold at a much lighter weight.

The Potts pointed out another adjustment that they would have to make is in dealing with veterinarians. Where they were in Michigan there was such a concentration of dairies that many veterinarians did not have an office and operated from a truck. This allowed them to be in the field strictly serving the dairy industry. Potts stated that here the veterinarians have additional responsibilities, and may not be as readily available.

John Potts also stated that he has noticed that there are more marketing cooperatives in this area. Where they came from everyone basically sold their milk through one cooperative, he explained.

The Potts laugh that another difference is the time it takes to run to town. Tammy Potts stated that in Michigan they lived only three miles from town, and she would regularly be sent to get a “bolt,” but here they are 15 miles from town and the trip becomes less practical. But they added that the people have all been friendly, and they hope their neighbors aren’t laughing at them too much as they watch how they adapt to Missouri.